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Sunday, February 05, 2017

AB InBev's alternative facts

You know that immigrant-founding-of-Budweiser story ad, “Born the Hard Way,” that beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV is running during the Super Bowl?

This is the story of our founder’s ambitious journey to America in pursuit of his dream: to brew the King of Beers.

The commercial, set in the mid-1800s, follows Adolphus Busch as he leaves Germany and sails through storms from Europe to America. Once there, he encounters discrimination because of his German heritage. After further travails, including an exploding paddleboat, Busch arrives in St. Louis, Missouri, where he meets brewery owner Eberhard Anheuser ("You don't look like you're from around here."), who buys the straggler a beer. Busch pulls out his notebook and tells the older gentleman that the next beer they share should be the one they brew together: Budweiser.


In the current tumult about Trump and his Muslim (non?) ban, the advert, with its “You’re not wanted here” subplot, is rankling some and cheering others (although, of course, it is unintentionally timely, considering the lead time needed for production).

Maureen Ogle is a historian whose bailiwick includes beer. Her take on the ad? It's an unfortunate series of alternative facts.
The guy is Adolphus Busch, who yearns to make beer and slogs his way to America to make it so. In the final scene, he encounters Eberhard Anheuser. Seriously? The ad is both a visual trainwreck and fiction, too?

Yes, Busch was an immigrant, but the rest — Eberhard meets Adolphus, traveling steerage and on foot, staggering, finally, into St. Louis, etc.?

Fiction.

Instead of the three-hanky catharsis I longed for, I got a murky performance of alternative facts. In short: It's perfectly suited to our Moment of Trump. Even farting Clydesdales would have been an improvement. At least we could have laughed as one.

National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story on the commercial and asked for Ms. Ogle’s opinion. For them, she was a bit more diplomatic and historian-expository:
When Busch arrived in St. Louis, he didn't just run into Eberhard Anheuser — he married his daughter and took over the small brewery that Anheuser, a prosperous soap-maker, had acquired. Neither Anheuser nor Busch was the source of the original Budweiser. Ogle says the Bud brand was started by one of Busch's friends, Carl Conrad. Busch eventually bought Budweiser from Conrad — but that happened in the 1880s, long after he had already become a successful brewer.

But there's one thing in the Budweiser ad that rings true to history: the anti-German immigrant hostility that Busch is depicted enduring on the streets. "Go back home!" a man tells him angrily.

The still-new nation was in the middle of a great debate over what it meant to be an American. And it was seeing a huge influx of immigrants — not just from Germany, but Ireland, too. "Both the Irish and Germans came from cultures where alcohol was a respectable habit," says Ogle. Many native-born Americans were worried about how all those newcomers, and their customs, would affect national identity, Ogle says. That's partly what gave rise to the temperance movement. It wasn't just about condemning alcohol, it was about defining the moral character of America.

Another blogger/writer, Steve Body, at The Pour Fool, was much less circumspect:
The entire story of how AB started was nothing like this and it’s not a secret how it did come about. But AB, with its ear constantly to the ground and its corporate antennae acutely tuned to The Main Chance, has now discovered that, in America of 2017, Lying Blatantly WORKS. Bud lies here artfully and masterfully and yanks at your heartstrings as if buying Budweiser was an appeal to sponsor orphaned children in the Sudan. This ad is pure, unadulterated bullshit. And if you fall for it, you are a Tool.

But, in the end, Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV gets what it wants. After production costs and the millions of dollars it’s paying to run the ad during the Super Bowl, the manufacturer of one-third of all the world’s beer gets lots of fawning press, lots of free advertising, and millions of click-baits. All the while hoping for a turnaround in falling sales of its flagship brand.

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  • Ms. Ogle's oeuvre includes “Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer,” which she wrote in 2006, and which she is updating with an online chapte, later this year.
  • From Dan Fox, a longtime advertising executive whose business was (and is) beer, here's another observation on the ad and its (lack of?) effectiveness.
  • If you must see the advertisement, “Born the Hard Way,” go here.
  • During Super Bowl XV in 1981, Schlitz ran a live commercial, the Great American Taste Test, pitting Schlitz vs. Michelob in a blind taste test. More: here.

  • For more from YFGF:

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