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Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser still has no real challenger for the title of King of Beers in the US. The extended family - led by top-selling Bud Light - accounts for more than one out of every four beers served in America. A run of enormously effective television commercials featuring talking lizards and TV-obsessed couch potatoes did much to consolidate the brand's position between 1995 and 2002, and also boosted Budweiser's profile with a wider global audience. Yet despite its dominance in the US, Budweiser's hold on the international market is less secure, not least as a result of a long-running and damaging legal dispute with Czech brewer Budvar. That has begun to change now that Budweiser is owned by global titan AB InBev, which declared its intent to confirm Budweiser as "the first truly global beer brand". At the same time, to smooth ruffled feathers in the US over the takeover of a domestic icon by a foreign company, Budweiser has placed an even greater emphasis on its American heritage since early 2009, describing itself as "The Great American Lager".
Selected Budweiser & Bud Light advertising
See Wine Beer & Spirits Sector index for other companies and brands
Who handles Budweiser's advertising? Click here for Agency Account Assignments for Budweiser from Adbrands.
Adbrands Weekly Update 12th May 2016: In a move designed to crush competition this summer from main rival MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch InBev is to change the name of its flagship brand from "Budweiser" to "America". The rebranding will commence later this month and run until the November's Presidential Election, encompassing the Copa America soccer tournament - taking place in the US for the first time in June - and the OIympics. The "King of Beers" tagline will be replaced by "E Pluribus Unum", the words featured on all US currency, and bottles and cans will also feature phrases from the Pledge of Allegiance and lyrics from the Star Spangled Banner anthem. If it wasn't so damned patriotic it would be outrageously cheeky. How can any upstanding American turn down the offer of an America beer? And how can any competitor dare to criticise it?
Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Nov 2015: AB InBev extended Bud Light's sponsorship deal with the NFL for a further six years to 2022. The cost of the package was reported to be $1.4bn, more than 15% higher than the current arrangement. However, in return Bud Light also gets rights to use highlights clips featuring players for the first time in TV ads, on its website, Facebook page and other digital properties. Previously, individual active players were barred from appearing in beer ads under NFL rules. The new deal strengthens Bud Light's association with American football. Separately, the top-selling US beer also sponsors no fewer than 28 of the 32 NFL teams, as well as Thursday Night Football games on CBS. "We've done the math and wouldn’t be renewing this sponsorship if we didn’t believe this would allow us to sell more beer," said the brewer's VP consumer connections Lucas Herscovici.
Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Jul 2015: Don't cry any tears for Wieden & Kennedy over its recent loss of the global Heineken account. Instead, the end of that assignment has allowed the agency to trade up - and how! - for the considerably bigger budget offered by Bud Light, the top-selling beer in the US with an annual adspend somewhere over $300m. The account moves from BBDO. And there's more (as advertisers like to say). Outside the US, Wieden & Kennedy also gets the global Corona Extra account, bringing total potential billings up to somewhere in the region of $340m. Twice if not three times, Heineken's spend. That Corona business was previously managed by The Bull-White House, which last month announced plans to close its doors.
Adbrands Weekly Update 29th Jan 2015: Mexican imports continued to chip away at American beers' market share last year according to new figures from IRI for off-trade sales. Constellation's Crown Imports scored a near 8% gain in sales of its Corona Extra to $1.3bn, while stablemate Modelo Especial jumped 26% to $731m, joining the top ten beers for the first time, above Heineken. However the Dutch brewer's Dos Equis was also a very strong performer, with sales to $6.1bn, but Coors Light and Budweiser, the #2 and #3 respectively at $2.4bn and $2.2bn, both lost sales. AB InBev's best performer was Michelob Ultra Light, which gained 12% in dollar value to $905m.
Adbrands Weekly Update 17th Apr 2014: BBDO widened its hold on the Bud Light brand in the US, adding creative responsibility for several variants, including Bud Light Platinum and the "Rita" series (Lime-A-Rita etc), from Steve Stoute's indie shop Translation. That agency will continue to work on the main Budweiser roster alongside lead shop Anomaly.
Budweiser is the undisputed champion in the US beer market, but it cannot afford to rest on its laurels, given the increasingly aggressive marketing of rival brewers, as well as competition from other alcoholic beverages. The brand's marketing profile is another distinct asset, the result of a string of unconventional and highly memorable campaigns. Budweiser's main weakness is its inconsistent performance in global markets, partly the result of the Budvar trademark dispute. However the brand has a good head start in China. Volumes there are still small, but they have possibility to eclipse Budweiser's sales in other international markets by the end of the decade.
One path will be international sports sponsorship: Budweiser has been the "official" beer of the FIFA World Cup since 1986, and a major recurring headline sponsor, most recently in 2014 in Brazil. In 2011 it became the first American brand to sponsor the UK's FA Cup football tournament. That mirrored an existing dominance in the US, where Bud Light is the official beer of the NFL (now until 2022) as well as the sponsor of 28 of the 32 NFL teams, and also of CBS network broadcast coverage of Thursday night games. It also has a strong presence in Major League Baseball. The FA Cup sponsorship arrangement was renewed for a further three years in 2015, and Bud will continue to partner the FIFA World Cup until at least 2022. In 2012, the group began extending Bud's sponsorship into music as well with the launch of the nationwide Music First programme of live events, and sponsorship arrangements with Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake. That was followed in 2013 by a global partnership with Rihanna covering 85 countries worldwide.
Brewed and sold since 1876, Budweiser became the world's best-selling beer in 1957 (overtaking Schlitz), and held that title until 2011, when it was overtaken in total volumes by China's top-selling domestic beer Snow. However it remains the clear top seller by global revenues, with combined retail sales for the extended family in excess of $20bn in 2012, according to AB InBev's own estimates. Net revenues to AB InBev were $5.3bn in 2014, from volumes of 44m hl. Brewed in eight countries around the world, it is distributed in more than 70.
The brand's true strength lies in the US, where it has unrivalled domination of the industry. In fact, the most important member of the extended Budweiser family is Bud Light. In the US, according to researcher IRI, off-trade sales for 2015 (excluding bars & restaurants) were $6.15bn, up 0.7% and equivalent to 18.4% market share. Volumes were 298m cases, slightly down on the year before. Dollar value was $3.7bn more than second-placed Coors Light.
Bud Light was first introduced in 1982 as Budweiser Light, a rival to Miller Lite. Renamed Bud Light a year later, it overtook Miller Lite in sales in 1984, and has continued to grow steadily in popularity ever since, gradually eclipsing its full-calorie parent. It overtook the main Budweiser brand as well in 2001 to become the best-selling beer in the US. Sales peaked in 2008 at almost 42.4m barrels (according to Beer Marketer's Insights), but Bud Light has experienced some erosion of its position with volumes slipping back steadily year-on-year. The main Budweiser brand has suffered an even steeper decline from a high of around 50m barrels in 1988 to 17.7m by 2011, down 5% year-on-year. This decline caused Budweiser to surrender its position as America's #2 beer to Coors Light. IRI estimated US off-trade sales of almost $2.14bn for Budweiser in 2015 (or 103m cases). AB InBev estimates put total global sales for the main Budweiser brand at $9.4bn in 2012.
Competition from other brands has been the main reason for the introduction of numerous variants designed to maintain the Bud family's overall lead. The first of these was Bud Dry, introduced in 1989 using the lengthier dry-brewing process, followed by Bud Ice and Bud Ice Light, both introduced in 1994. No further extensions were introduced until 2004, when Anheuser introduced a malt beverage version of Budweiser described as beer "infused with caffeine, ginseng and guarana". The new product, named Be (or "B to the power of E"), targeted clubbers familiar with Red Bull and similar "energy drinks". It was later renamed Bud Extra. However, in 2008, Anheuser agreed to stop marketing the product in the face of pressure from lawmakers because of its popularity with underage drinkers.
A more mainstream product was introduced in 2005 to cater to low-carb drinkers under the name Budweiser Select. Anheuser claimed at the time it was one of the company's most successful launches ever. An additional variant was introduced in 2009 with even lower calorie and carb content as Select 55. One of the Bud family's more unusual variants was unveiled at the end of 2007: Budweiser and Bud Light premixed with Clamato tomato cocktail. Marketed as Budweiser Chelada (or Bud Light Chelada), this is a version of a cocktail already popular with a Latino market in the US. The product was launched into selected US states with a high Hispanic population in early 2008. It was followed by a lime-infused version of Bud Light marketed as Bud Light Lime, and then a darker craft beer, Budweiser American Ale. New for 2009 was Bud Light Golden Wheat, an unfiltered wheat beer brewed with wheat malt, coriander and citrus peels. Bud Light Platinum, launched in 2011, promised an even finer taste "triple filtered" for extra smoothness, as well as a higher alcohol content (6% ABV).
Bud Light Lime-a-Rita, a ready-to-drink margarita-style malt beverage, was a very popular 2012 launch, followed up with Bud Light Straw-ber-Rita, then Cran-Brr-Rita and Mang-O-Rita. Initially planned as a limited edition seasonal beverage the "Rita" franchise has proved unexpectedly longlasting, with combined sales topping $1bn in 2014. Another addition to the portfolio is Budweiser Black Crown, an amber specialty lager with 6% alcohol content (compared to Budweiser's 5%), which launched in January 2013. However sales of these newer variants rarely hold up in the long term. In 2015, IRI figures recorded a 24% plunge in sales of Bud Light Lime to $404m (or 11.7m cases), while 20-plus year-old Bud Ice enjoyed a 10% lift to $306m (on 17.6m cases). They were followed by Bud Light Platinum ($258m, 9.4m cases) and Bud Light Chelada ($147m, 4.5m cases).
The market has become increasingly competitive in recent years, not least as a result of the merger of rivals Miller and Coors, first into multinational brewing groups, and most recently into a single US competitor, MillerCoors. After years of stagnant performance, both competitors regained confidence in 2003 and 2004, launching direct attacks on Budweiser's stature. Miller in particular openly mocked the "King of Beers" tag. Anheuser responded by dismissing Miller as the "Queen of Carbs", a reference to its low carbohydrate content, and resulting popularity among Atkins dieters. Yet there was a distinct edge to Anheuser's response. Queen or not, Miller Lite scored a significant rise in volumes during 2004, leading to Budweiser's own (rather late) entry into the low-carb market with Bud Select. Since then, Anheuser has sought to wrap Budweiser in the American flag, disparaging its rivals at first for their "foreign ownership" and proclaiming Budweiser as "America's beer". In 2006, it launched a further patriotic initiative saluting America's servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan. In its boldest initiative to-date, AB InBev actually renamed Budweiser as America beer in summer 2016. As Budweiser builds its status as an icon, Bud Light went in the opposite direction, positioning itself as an irreverent iconoclast, in advertising which was skewed heavily towards younger men and their interests. A new strategy was unveiled in late 2009, as Bud Light began moving away from its traditionally "blokey" humour in favour of less edgy positioning which emphasised its "superior drinkability".
The key to Budweiser's success has always been its innovative marketing. At the end of the 19th century, Anheuser-Busch launched a series of innovative promotions for its beers featuring penknives and free lithographs. "King of Bottled Beers" was actually the company's first ever slogan, introduced in 1899 (and in fact borrowed directly from the German beer Kaiserbrau, or "Beer of Kings"). In the 1930s and 1940s Budweiser was "America's Social Companion" or "A Beverage of Moderation". Later in the 1940s, Anheuser-Busch was the first brewer to advertise on television. In 1952, Budweiser officially became branded as "The King of Beers", a slogan which ran until the early 1970s, when it was replaced by ''When You Say Budweiser, You've Said it All''. During the early 1980s, the company launched the ''This Bud's for You'' for you campaign.
However Budweiser's market share had begun to decline by the early 1990s. Not only was the main brand widely associated with an older generation of drinkers, but it was overshadowed by the successful launch of Bud Light. Anheuser attempted to restart growth of the parent brand with the launch of Bud Dry, but this flopped, as did a new slogan, "Proud To be Your Bud", which replaced the previous long-standing "Nothing Beats A Bud". Instead, the group initiated a dual strategy of targeting older drinkers with heritage-based marketing featuring the celebrated Clydesdale dray horses, while reaching out to a younger audience with edgier and more off-the-wall marketing. The introduction of the Budweiser frogs (each croaking a different syllable of "Bud", "Weis" and "Er") in 1995, accompanied by a successful viral marketing campaign, marked the beginning of Budweiser's return to form, and re-established Budweiser as a hip brand for young drinkers. This morphed into the "Louie the Lizard" commercials produced by US agency Goodby Silverstein, which created a huge boost in awareness during the late 1990s, and won a shelf-full of awards.
But even they were eclipsed by the success of the "Whassup!?" campaign, launched in 2000. In fact that ad, produced by DDB Worldwide Chicago, was based on the real-life habits of director Charles Stone III. Stone and his circle of friends had been exchanging the "Whassup" greeting since the mid-1980s. In 1998 he made a short film entitled True about the group; this was seen by DDB and became the basis of the first ad. The success of the Whassup!? campaign was remarkable by any account, spreading the catchphrase into popular culture.
More recently the brand has returned to its heritage, resurrecting the King of Beers tag, and centring much of its marketing around the concept of freshness. In the days before refrigeration, Anheuser-Busch was the first brewer to conquer the problem of keeping beer from going bad before it was delivered to customers, by establishing a national network of breweries as well as refrigerated delivery trains. Although modern technology has made these concerns largely irrelevant, there are still some advantages to getting beer to customers as quickly as possible. The beer's taste is arguably superior, and perceived quality is enhanced. As a result Anheuser has made a virtue out of the fact that each shipment of Budweiser carries a "Born On" date, the date on which that particular batch was packaged. The group claims to be able to deliver its products into stores and bars on average 14 days before other brewers.
Maintaining its dual marketing approach, in 2003 the group launched a tongue-in-cheek radio campaign for Bud Light celebrating "Real Men of Genius", who were in fact anything. This won considerable acclaim, and was eventually expanded as a set of TV ads, although these didn't quite live up to past glories. In 2006, Anheuser announced plans to launch a dedicated web-based entertainment channel, Bud TV, offering custom-made programming, including sports, stand-up comedy, and even Bud Tube, in which users can submit their own homemade content. Produced by Budweiser's core agency DDB, the channel launched with a fanfare in time for Superbowl 2007 with a goal of reaching an audience of 3m users by year's end. However the response from web users was muted to say the least, and after an initial spike, visitor figures steadily dropped over the next few months, falling below 150,000 by Spring. The company launched a review of the concept in June that year, but vowed not to cancel the service altogether. There was a change of strategy in early 2009, and Bud TV was finally terminated in February that year.
By comparison to the US, Budweiser's international profile is still weaker, although that imbalance is gradually changing. In 2012, more than half of Budweiser's total volumes were sold outside the US for the first time in its history. The beer certainly has a strong presence in Canada, where it has been the #1 beer brand since 2003 (produced and marketed by InBev's local subsidiary Labatt). In the UK, one of only two international markets where Anheuser had controlled its own local brewery, Budweiser is the #1 premium packaged lager in bars, clubs and restaurants (but not pubs), and the #3 take-home lager with sales of £324m in the year to Apr 2016 (IRI figures quoted by The Grocer). Budweiser sponsors the UK football Premier League as well as Manchester United football club. Bud Light is not widely available. Budweiser has also proved extremely popular in Ireland, and replaced Guinness as the popular tipple for many young adults.
Budweiser's most important international territory, however, is China, where Anheuser-Busch had established the Budweiser Wuhan International Brewing Company. The capacity of the Wuhan plant reached
Elsewhere, Bud had been produced under license; by CCU in Argentina; in Ireland by Diageo's Guinness; in Italy by Heineken; in Japan by Kirin; in Spain by Damm; and also in the Philippines and Korea. There were also import and distribution agreements with partners based in Central America, Denmark, France, Mexico and Sweden. In 2006, Heineken agreed a deal to begin brewing and marketing the beer in Russia under the Bud name. However all these partnerships came under review as a result of Budweiser's arrival in the InBev family, and have been gradually dismantled. In almost all markets, Budweiser is now marketed by the local subsidiary of InBev. The group has also introduced the beer into several important new markets, not least Russia in 2010 and Brazil during 2011. As a result, AB InBev claimed that, despite erosion in the US, total combined volumes of the Bud family rose by just over 3% in 2011, and that international sales accounted for almost 44% of sales, compared to 28% in 2008.
The main check until now to the brand's international expansion has been a long-running and seemingly irresolvable row with rival brewery Budejovicky Budvar, owned by the Czech government. This company is situated in a city now called Budejovice, but before 1918 the town was known officially as Budvar, while its large population of German immigrants called it Budweis. Adolphus Busch was paying homage to that town when he first introduced Budweiser in the US in 1876. In 1895 the Budvar brewery also laid claim to that brand name and the first row between the two brewers was settled with a 1911 agreement which allowed the American company to use the Budweiser trademark in all territories except Europe. Budvar was the first company to break the spirit of that pact in the 1930s, when it began selling its beer in the US under the name "Original Bohemian Budweiser Beer from Budweis City". A second agreement was signed in 1939 in which the Czech brewer agreed not to use the Budweiser name in North America and several - but not all - European countries. As both companies expanded over the following years those other, unresolved European territories became the focus of a furious legal battle.
Budvar now has the legal right to use the name Budweiser in more than 40 of the 55 countries it exports to. As a result, in around 20 European territories - including France and Russia - Anheuser has been obliged to market its product as Bud. In 2013, Budweiser rebranded as Bud in Italy as well following an unfavourable ruling from a local court over ownership of the name. In several other countries, Budejovicky Budvar has the exclusive right to the Bud name as well. Initially Anheuser was reduced to calling itself "American B" or "Anheuser Busch Bud" in those territories, but now in most cases the company only markets its Michelob brands in disputed areas. Budweiser beer is not sold in the Czech Republic, and was finally withdrawn from Germany in 2012 after repeated attempts to get around the name block failed to win over customers. During the early 1990s, Anheuser attempted to pressure the Czech government into selling the Budvar brewery, but negotiations stalled in 1995. In 2001, Budvar began its first attack on the US since the 1930s, distributing its beer as Czechvar. Meanwhile Anheuser made a renewed effort to introduce Budweiser into Germany, with a competition inviting German drinkers to come up with a new name. At the same time, bottles of Bud with the name part of the label artfully torn off were test-marketed in key urban centres.
By 2002 the battleground had shifted to Australasia, where the two companies continue to fight their way through the Australian and New Zealand courts. In a shock verdict in 2003, the UK's House of Lords ruled that Budvar could market under the Bud and Budweiser names in the UK, making it the only country in the world where the two could co-exist with the same name. Meanwhile the two competitors remained embroiled in more than 50 lawsuits across Europe. Anheuser scored a victory in Italy in 2005, where an appeal court in 2005 overturned a previous ruling allocating the Budweiser trademark to Budvar. The group launched a new assault on Germany in 2006, supported by the acquisition of exclusive rights to sell beer within sports stadium's during the 2006 World Cup. In return Budvar applied to the European Union for protection, claiming that Budweiser counts as a "protected geographical indication" like Parma ham, Champagne or Roquefort cheese.
That long-running row showed signs of heading towards a partial conclusion in 2007 after the two sides agreed a truce under which Anheuser-Busch agreed to take over exclusive US distribution rights to Budvar, which it markets under the name Czechvar. The legal battles between the two companies continues in other markets. In March 2009, the European Court of First Instance upheld a ruling refusing what is now Anheuser-Busch InBev permission to register the Budweiser brand as a trademark in Europe as a whole. The following year, Europe's highest court of all, The European Court of Justice, reiterated that ruling. As a result, Budvar has sole rights to the Budweiser name in 19 countries, including Russia and Germany. AB InBev has sole rights in eight countries, and the two companies may both use that brandname in the UK. In Jan 2013, a European court reinforced AB InBev's rights to use the Bud trademark in all 27 EU countries, and this decision was ratified by the EU Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market in June the same year.
Budvar is a minnow by comparison with its American "namesake". Total volumes sold in 2009 were 1.3m hectolitres, of which only around half were sold outside the Czech Republic.
For a history of Budweiser's development, see Anheuser-Busch profile.
Last full revision 15th June 2016
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