Risking Brand Failure to Sell More Suds


TBA.06.09.16If you spent several decades building a brand name, would you change it for a 6-month perceived market advantage? And then go back to the name you tirelessly built over all those years? Well, that’s just what Anheuser-Busch is planning to do with their Budweiser brand. Why? Because they want to ride on the coattails of the American election. And what do you think they want to call it? Why, “America” of course.

We think this is a risky idea from many standpoints:

  1. Building a brand takes years. Your brand is not owned by your company – it’s owned by your customers. You don’t really have a right to change the name they are looking for and depend upon – no matter what your marketing department thinks. We recommend asking your salespeople who talk to your customers every day before you consider any changes, let alone a name change for a short-term event.
  2. Coca-Cola changed their name to Coca Cola Classic – letting Pepsi in – and then spent years trying to get their customers back with several iterations of new names. It took years! Miller and Coors will be easy to find during the elections and may see an increase in customers who are disgruntled because their “Bud” suddenly disappeared without asking them for permission. And if “Bud” is the one syllable nickname for Budweiser, what is the one syllable nickname for America, “Yank”?
  3. Retailers who at first seem to warm to anything new and “exciting” will cool pretty quickly if they are stuck with any leftover “America” inventory after the hoopla of the elections has past. They may demand a pick up or swap out at the producer’s expense before they welcome the original brand back in their stores. We have seen this firsthand with seasonal brands that have not sold out yet and stay past the season. Often retailers drastically discount products with a seasonal brand just to get rid of them.
  4. Consumers may question the quality, ownership, and customer service of the “new” brand. They may want to know if the new brand is a discount brand, in which case they will expect to pay less, potentially hurting the profit margin. It can cost the producer plenty in terms of advertising that says, “This is your Bud.” Why put yourself in a position to have to backpedal or explain?
  5. Competition can move in with campaigns that tout the dependability of their brands and the stability of their names. If they want to celebrate the election season, they can do it with merchandising materials, trade dress, and American flags. This will be a big opportunity for them to increase sales at the expense of the “new” brand. Words like “reliable” and “consistent” come to mind. Micro-brews and other American-made beers will certainly be beating the patriotic-producer drum.

We have often said that brands don’t get knocked off by the competition, they die of self-inflicted wounds.  The most common self-inflicted wound we see is the misconception some marketing folks have about what they can do with what they think is “their” brand. That’s when they find out who really owns the brand. But by that time it can be too late!

Very few seasonal brands have been successful because of the unsold inventory problem. We tried it with a Holiday Season brand we called “Merlot Ho Ho” and “Holiday Chardonnay.” We thought it was cool, clever, cute, and catchy. It was one of our worst ideas! And America Beer is right up there. “Just wanna be your America”? The consumers will be voting in the winner with their purchases.