Bud’s Super Bowl bust

Super Bowl ads always generate lots of interest for brand – this year they were significantly more interesting than the game itself. However, with their ad for Bud Light, Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB- InBev) managed to anger a key supply chain partner in the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) as well as some viewers when they aired a commercial for Bud Light at this year’s Super Bowl.

The commercial is set in what has been described as a faux-medieval universe, akin to Game of Thrones where a courier delivers a giant barrel of corn syrup to the kingdom of Bud Light. However, the King announces Bud Light isn’t brewed with corn syrup (like other competitor light beers) and goes on a journey to return the massive barrel of corn syrup to its rightful owner.

Immediately after airing, NCGA condemned the ad in a tweet and not long after, the association’s first vice-president Kevin Ross made a video where he pours the contents of his Bud Light down the bathroom sink. In a cheeky respo0nse competitor Coors Light took to Twitter this week to announce it will host #ToastToFarmers at bars across the country.

Apart from ticking off farmers, the ad highlighted the challenge for Big Beer in differentiating its product. The Bud Light ad used a familiar marketing tactic that plays at transparency about its production process, but in fact manages to mislead. Demonising ingredients in competitor products to gain a marketing advantage regularly misfires for brands, yet here we are again.

In the case of Bud Light, the marketers are also relying on the ignorance of beer drinkers about the brewing process itself. By the time the beer is in the can or bottle, there is no sugar left regardless of the sugar source. Sugar feeds the yeast that converts it to alcohol and carbon dioxide during fermentation and is consumed in the process.

What’s even more mystifying is that AB-InBev uses corn syrup in some of its other beers. Bud Light’s vice president of marketing claims the brand is increasing transparency, as its consumers deserve to know more about their beer. However, as Joe Fassler observes in an article for the New Food Economy, these transparency efforts resulted in Bud Light using one of the world’s largest stages to spin a fairy tale. It highlights the tension between consumers wanting transparency and food company concerns that they “can’t handle the truth”. The result are cartoonish representations of sourcing and production processes that are highly selective in what they disclose.