Over the past decade, consumer love for hand-crafted, small-batch beers has steadily replaced the corporate-owned beers which have traditionally dominated as favorites in the great US of A. To reinforce the brand’s image as an American institution and put Budweiser top of mind during the peak beer-selling season, Anheuser-Busch announced recently that Budweiser plans to change its name to ‘America’ on its iconic labels through the November election. While Budweiser has always embodied a strong sense of American patriotism, the new cans and bottles aim to further inspire beer drinkers to celebrate America and Budweiser’s shared values of freedom and authenticity. As national levels of patriotism surge and presidential candidates sling viral rhetoric like “Make America Great Again,” Budweiser’s ride on the star spangled bandwagon is strikingly on-point.
Impeccable timing aside, the world has wasted no time in denouncing the change. Major media outlets, beer critics, and even small breweries themselves have retaliated against it. But as Budweiser continues to be a major topic both in national media and regional conversation, we should wonder: does Budweiser’s America actually make sense for the brand?
Possibly the biggest argument against Budweiser’s temporary stand-in lies in the fact that its parent company is based in the bicycle-adoring, cheese-slinging region of Holland, and its beer is produced in various breweries around the world. Owning a gargantuan 25% of global market share, Anheuser-Busch InBev is the single largest brewery on earth. This is one fact that many media outlets have been quick to identify as a flaw in the freedom-filled campaign.
But if we disapprove of Budweiser’s name change simply based on the geographic location of its parent company, we must also acknowledge just how American imported goods really are. Our nation is replete with people texting on Chinese-made iPhones, students strutting in Indonesian fibers, and restaurants serving plated meals of mass-produced food raised in, well, who the hell knows? As Washington Post’s op-ed columnist Alexandra Petri expressed rather eloquently: “I can literally think of nothing more American than being foreign-controlled and mass-produced.”
As craft breweries speak out against Budweiser’s un-americanness, it’s essential to note how many craft breweries are actually owned by offshore companies too, including Anheuser-Busch InBev. Such acquisitions allow small brewers to expand their distribution resources, bolster national brand awareness, and build their business from the ground up. And isn’t that itself the American dream? If we’re drawing a fine line between American-owned companies and those owned by foreign-operating conglomerates, we’ll have to group cult favorites like Goose Island, Kona Brewing and Elysian Brewing in the same bucket as Budweiser. In truth, Adolphus Busch began brewing the beer in St. Louis in the 1860’s. Akin to the craft breweries of today, the Budweiser brand upholds strong American roots, with 160 years in operation. Mr. Busch was preceded only by a handful of brewers, including Yuengling & Son, which staked its ground in the fertile soil of Pottsville Pennsylvania in 1829.
After examining the criticism against Budweiser in slightly more nuanced ways, it becomes evident that the name ‘America’ actually makes great sense. Budweiser is on fire from a branding perspective and there’s no doubt that more people will be lugging 12 packs of America to their BBQs this summer, even if it’s just for the conversation. Perhaps the not-so-fortunate outcome — millions of broken and crushed Americas piling up proudly in the trash from sea to shining sea. In keeping with the spirit of freedom, everyone is allowed to define their own America, even if it means chugging down a cold one on a hot summer day, crushing America over your forehead, and throwing it in the garbage. After all, “America is in Your Hands.”