Every summer since 2011, Budweiser has touted its allegiance to America by rolling out packaging with patriotic themes. Its beer cans and bottles have featured the Statue of Liberty’s crowned head or raised torch. The red, white and blue stars and stripes have been presented in various slanted angles and patterns. This summer the self-proclaimed “King of Beers” has boldly gone where no brand has gone before. It dropped the renowned Budweiser logo completely and replaced it with the generic name “America.” Before you decide this is branding suicide, consider the rationale.
Budweiser was founded by Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, Missouri, around 1870. Adolphus Busch named his beer Budweiser to appeal to German immigrants like himself. He modeled the beer after a Bavarian lager made in the German town of Budweis, founded by King Ottokar in 1245. King Ottokar actually coined the slogan “The Beer of Kings.” Also, in what is now the Czech Republic, the name Budweiser name had existed in Budějovice since the 16th century. In fact, there is still a Czech beer called Budweiser Budvar.
All was well for decades since beer was mostly a local product, which didn’t travel well over long distances. But pasteurization and refrigerated freight cars turned the St. Louis-produced Budweiser into a brand known throughout the land. This forced the St. Louis brewer and the two European brewers that all called their beer Budweiser into a trademark dispute, which was resolved in 1938, with the agreement that Anheuser-Busch could use the brand name Budweiser only in North America.
Fast forward to 2008, when a Belgium-based beer giant acquired the St. Louis-produced Budweiser label and changed its corporate name to Anheuser-Busch InBev. That made Budweiser’s American roots even more confusing – this at a time when other U.S.-made beer brands were heavily cutting into Budweiser’s market share.
Budweiser decided to strengthen its American heritage by launching a major campaign during the peak beer-guzzling summer months. The New York-based design firm Jones Knowles and Ritchie was asked to create limited edition packaging for a summer-long campaign called “America is in your hands.” The 2016 marketing effort runs from May 23 through the November general election.
Temporarily replacing the Budweiser label with “America” was a bold move, but one that probably won’t confuse consumers. The graphic styling of the cans and bottles look identical to the usual packaging. Only the text has been swapped out with phrases like “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave,” “e pluribus unum,” and the lyrics to the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The bottles look eerily the same as the regular ones, except for arousing an inexplicable urge to salute and sing “America the Beautiful.”