Because advertising is a barometer that often accurately measures America’s psychological atmosphere, attention must be paid to this: From May 23 through the presidential election, Budweiser beer will bear a different name. Eager to do its bit to make America great again, the brewer will replace the name “Budweiser” with “America” on its twelve-ounce bottles and cans.
The Financial Times says this is “a bid to capitalize on U.S. election fever.” (Before the Chicago Cubs bestrode the world like a colossus, T-shirts proclaimed “Cubs Fever: Catch it — and die.”) A beer-bottle metaphysician at the brewer of soon-to-be America says, “We are embarking on what should be the most patriotic summer that this generation has ever seen.” This refers to the once-in-a-generation, light-the-sparklers opportunity to choose between two presidential candidates roundly disliked by American majorities. It is enough to drive one to drink something stronger than beer.
The beer brands most familiar to Americans — Budweiser, Miller, Coors — are foreign-owned. Want to win a round of cold Americans this summer? Wager that no one in the saloon can identify the American-owned brewer with the largest market share and say what that share is. The answer is: D.G. Yuengling & Son with just 1.4 percent of the market, slightly more than Boston Beer Co., which makes the Sam Adams brand.
The beer brands most familiar to Americans — Budweiser, Miller, Coors — are foreign-owned.
Budweiser is the “king of beers” — we know it is because Budweiser says it is — but will not be saying so during this advertising campaign. The slogan will be replaced by “E Pluribus Unum.” This is Latin for “Perhaps a gusher of patriotic kitsch will stanch the leakage of our market share to pestilential craft breweries.”
More than 40 percent of Americans 21 to 27 have never tasted Budweiser. They prefer craft beers.
America has more than 4,000 craft breweries. Most American adults — 235 million of them — live within ten miles of a local brewery. And more than 40 percent of Americans 21 to 27 have never tasted Budweiser. They prefer craft beers (a craft brewer ships no more than 6 million barrels a year; Budweiser shipped 16 million in 2013, down from 50 million in 1988), which perhaps explains Budweiser’s current weirdly truculent commercials, such as this: “Proudly a macro beer. It’s not brewed to be fussed over. . . . It’s brewed for drinking, not dissecting. . . . Beer brewed the hard way. Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale.” And this: “Not small. Not sipped. Not soft. Not a fruit cup. Not imported.” Not cheerful.
Last year, craft brewers, which are increasing at a rate of almost two a day, won 12.8 percent of the $105.9 billion beer market. And 2015 was the sixth consecutive year, and the twelfth time in 15 years, in which beer’s portion of the nation’s alcohol revenue declined as more Americans drink cocktails like the characters on Mad Men.
If, however, these aspiring Don Drapers hoist an America, they will have in their hands bottles and cans adorned with snippets of American Scripture — the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “America the Beautiful.” The psalmist said that joy cometh in the morning. Fat lot the psalmist knew. Joy cometh in the evening when you crack a cold can of America and anticipate the thrills of the looming “patriotic summer.” Go ahead. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
— George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. © 2016 The Washington Post