The Presbyterians of Beer

There is always as much reaction to Super Bowl commercials as there is to the game itself. I read an excellent article that you can find HERE on why the commercials were more stories and less humor this year. I, however, want to reflect on a Budweiser commercial.

First, a little context is needed if you are not much of a beer drinker. There are big changes going on in the beer world right now. The industry is dominated by a few companies. You know their names because they are the ones who can afford things like Super Bowl commercials. These are called macro-breweries. They are amazing at mass-producing very consistently average beer. They are huge businesses and fit the corporate America model. However, they are losing percentage points of the industry every year to craft beer. These are normally more flavorful beers that come from small breweries called micro-breweries. These beers are known for lots of complex and unique flavors and smells. They seem to be especially popular among young beer drinkers. These beers are more expensive because they are not mass-produced.

In response to this dynamic, Budweiser put the following commercial in the Super Bowl:



When you understand the context, it is easy to see how bad and confusing this commercial. I recommend THIS EXCELLENT ARTICLE by Paste Magazine by Jim Vorel for a fuller treatment of the issues. Here are a couple of highlights:

  • Budweiser tries to use the term “macro” as a good thing even though the word is really a critique of their work. They are trying to re-sign a bad image but may only be admitting to this negative designation.
  • They make fun of beer drinkers that want to be “fussed over.” They are making fun of young hipster drinkers that have a curled mustache or drink beer samples at a brew-pub.
  • Budweiser, immediately after making fun of beer aficionados makes a claim that would only appeal to this kind of beer drinker. The average Budweiser drinker probably does not know or care that it is aged on “beechwood aged since 1876.”
  • They state that their beer is for drinking and not dissecting. They are saying that their beer is not supposed to be smelled or tasted. Is their beer only for getting drunk?
  • They make fun of pumpkin peach ale while just a few weeks ago they bought a small brewery that makes pumpkin peach ale. They are taking shots at their own companies. Not only are they buying up craft breweries but they also keep their own test brewery.
  • How can they claim that mass-production is the hard way to brew when small breweries are so much more hands on?

Here is the reality: the average Budweiser drinker is in their 50’s. The future of Budweiser is in serious jeopardy if they cannot find a way to appeal to younger drinkers. What they don’t seem to understand is that appeal to tradition is not going to make that happen.

I have bad news for Budweiser. This strategy marks the beginning of the end. I should know. I am an expert on this kind of failing strategy. You see, I am a pastor in a mainline denomination called the Presbyterian Church (USA) and we and other denominations have been trying these strategies for years. We have appealed to our tradition. We have talked about ourselves as the true church. We have critiqued and made fun of new movements like church plants, independent churches, and Pentecostal movements. At the same time, our average customer age has been going up. In response, we have spent money on studies and consultants to help us understand these same new movements, young people, and churchless adults that we have put off for years. We have hung our hats on tradition over quality. We have appealed to loyalty over quality of taste. We have reinforced our corporate hierarchy at the expense of local church health.

The long term sustainability of denominations like the Presbyterian Church (USA) are seriously in question right now. Unfortunately, with this commercial Budweiser has become “the Presbyterians of Beer” and that is not a good thing. It has not worked well for mainline Christian denominations, and I doubt it will work well for Budweiser either.

The reality of life is that we all must adapt or die. If we adapt a little, we may survive for a while but we will never thrive. It is not going to work to poke fun at the way things are changing while at the same time appealing to those you are poking fun at to join you. The only way to move forward is to have the courage to face reality and respond. Alternatively, you can die. What will be the fate of Budweiser? What will be the fate of Christian churches and denominations?


2 thoughts on “The Presbyterians of Beer

  1. Insightful stuff, Jordan. I have one comment: corporate America does not die. Not usually. It gets bought and sold sometimes, but it does not die. Budweiser will continue to maintain its bottom line by buying the micro-brews, coming up with micro-brews of its own (but sold under a micro-brew-ish brand), and by getting into other industries–classic example in my research is Coke buying Minute Maid, but Budweiser might conceivably get into the snack food business or some other line. This ad, therefore, appeals to one segment of the beer drinking population while alienating another segment–who are, right now or in time, going to be drinking Budweiser-owned micro brews. And this makes it distinct from mainline churches. People aren’t drifting away from beer, they’re just drifting away from a particular kind of beer. By contrast, people aren’t just drifting away from the mainline, they’re drifting away from Christianity. That’s a much harder philosophical problem to fix than Budweiser faces.

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