Budweiser’s Immigrant Campaign creates a storm in a pint glass

How should a brand react when a campaign gets this kind of backlash?

Budweiser’s 2017 Superbowl commercial features the story of the beer company founder’s ambitious journey from Germany to America in pursuit of his dream: to brew the ‘King of Beers’. The story combines an epic tale (brand folklore) with the theme of achieving your dreams by overcoming all obstacles through hard work and perseverance.

But the campaign has unintentionally touched-on a raw nerve in the US bringing with it a shit-pile of angst, criticism and negativity. Whilst Budweiser maintain the ad was not intended to be a political statement, the immigration theme isn’t sitting well with some who think the campaign is a very public anti-Trump statement.

Whilst the irony (and some of the discussion around the ad) is the US of A’s pride in being a land of immigrants, a closer look at history shows the journey has rarely been an easy one for those looking to move to America to pursue the promised Hope and Opportunity. Many waves of immigrants throughout U.S. history were met with the similar levels of distrust as those in the sights of recent immigration laws.

If you believe that all publicity is good publicity, then maybe the 28 million views all add-up to a boon for the brand. But in these days of consumer movements, brands can rightly get pretty nervous about threats of boycotts when they inadvertently poke a hornets nest.

For brands who attract this kind of backlash there is no playbook for managing the impact or turning around consumer sentiment. Sometimes, as with The Gap’s re-branding a few years back, the way forward is to reverse the decision and back-the-hell out of there. But for most brands the challenge is to re-focus on the values that are true to the essence and authenticity of their brand and map-out a solution from there. This sounds simple in theory but is often far from it in execution.

As Budweiser have discovered, the very brand values they believed were being reflected by the campaign have been translated into a new and different meaning. They may be the beer for everyone in ‘Middle America’ but the Middle America ground appears to have shifted. Somehow ‘Inclusive’ has flipped to become ‘Exclusive’ and Budweiser have found themselves on suddenly thin ice.

As is usually the case with context, this is partly to do with timing. Trump’s politics have created a moment in time when the immigration issue has become more heated than usual – an unfortunate moment to launch (or at least promote) a campaign based on an immigrant’s tale. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but looking backwards is not going to help Budweiser find a way through this sensitive storm of negative consumer sentiment.

 

Dave Ansett
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more at…
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