AB InBev's Surprising, Defensive Response Video

From "Six Viewpoints from The High End

AB InBev has responded to the Brewers Association's new "independence seal" with a video that appeared this morning. Have a look:

It is ... amazing.

As I mentioned earlier this week, the Brewers Association introduced a new seal to identify qualifying breweries as independent. Their idea is to hone their message to a single, clear point, clarify its meaning to the consumer, and make it a point of distinction in the marketplace. They represent a group who collectively sell about 12% of the country's beer and, as a trade organization, are trying to use their collective voices to make it possible to access and succeed in the marketplace. By introducing the concept of "independence" they are defining the terms of the battlefield on which they want to fight. Much as when activist create a mental space favorable to their position--"death taxes," "gay rights," "entitlements"--by highlighting independence, they hope to convince consumers this is both an important battle and the one on which they are on the right side.

AB InBev, by contrast, has been assembling a portfolio of brands of formerly-independent breweries (aka the "High End") as a rear-guard effort to shore up falling barrelage to dominate the "craft space." This is a conglomerate that plays hardball, from the brewhouse to the distributor to the retailer, and they pose a real threat to smaller breweries. (This is not a moral issue; it's just a fact. Obviously, the whole point in assembling a High End is to seize back lost barrelage.) To the extent there's any real battle here, it may hinge on the question of independence, which means ABI should never give the fight oxygen.

So what on earth is this defensive, disingenuous, petty, and off-putting video supposed to accomplish? What's the target audience? I have spent a lot of years in and out of politics, and the optics of this video, which has an overtly political valence, are terrible. Anyone with even a dodgy BS-detector is going to sniff this one out. "The real threat is wine." Sure it is. "Isn't it all supposed to be about the beer?" Irrelevant and insulting. "If you were truly independent, if you were punk, you wouldn't use the logo." Lol! That last one is especially rich. It's the kind of thing that issues from a closed environment in which those who have already drunk the Kool-Aid think they've scored a winning blow. But outside the bubble, it just seems desperate and sad. And of course, the very presence of this video gives the question of independence life.

The response, at least among the avid people who would bother to watch such a video, has been scathing. Event the comments on the video's Vimeo page  are brutal (sample: "Six viewpoints from sellouts trying to rationalize their treachery.")

Fortunately for AB InBev, no one is really going to watch this. Unfortunately for AB InBev, it seems to have shot real life into the Brewers Association's effort to get breweries to join their effort. They've already signed up hundreds of breweries (870 as of this moment). They also seem to get how to make a charming video that really appeals to people:

Stay tuned, I have a sense things are only starting to get interesting.

Jeff Alworth6 Comments