I know that many of our readers aren’t going to like my take on this, but I strongly believe that without the Big Beer brands (Anheuser Busch, MillerCoors, etc.), craft beer would not exist.
I’m in no way condoning their business practices of aggressively stealing shelf space or abusing the three-tier distribution system in an attempt to stunt craft beers’ growth. My argument is simply that craft beers’ focus on quality and community wouldn’t be able to exist without the huge gap in the market left untouched (until recently) by Big Beer.
Having a quality product is what the craft beer industry prides itself on and for good reason. Craft breweries across the country have been constantly experimenting and pushing the boundaries of ingredients while resurrecting beer styles that many had considered dead and gone. This birth of flavors and styles is due to beer drinkers only having access to pale and uninspired light adjunct lagers provided by the Big Beer brands and craving something more.
The Big Beer brands excel at marketing and they buy million dollar spots during the Super Bowl and at other popular TV times to ensuring that they have constant exposure. This “in your face” type of marketing continues to perpetuate the image of a faceless, massive company who cares more about the sales of its product than about the quality of their beverages or what the consumer wants.
Their advertising style paved the way for a new kind of marketing, one that focuses on personal interaction and community support. This is the experience that has made craft brewing so popular. Consumers finally feel a connection to the beer they drink, know exactly who is making it and the values of the company from whom they’re buying.
Furthermore, many brewers and craft beer drinkers took it as a personal offense when Budweiser ran their Super Bowl ads “Brewed the Hard Way” in 2015 and “Not Backing Down” most recently. These ads drew a clear line in the sand that undeniably differentiated them from the rest of the market. But if nothing else, these ads make craft beer seem even more independent and appealing.
Those Super Bowl ads only resonate with people who are already life-long Bud drinkers and the average consumer isn’t going to stop drinking beer from their local brewery because of these television spots. Consumers can now identify, more than ever, that there is a clear choice between craft and Big Beer.
The products that Big Beer markets also have a huge impact on the industry and Blue Moon, a notoriously “crafty” brand, has paved the way for the drinking public to accept different and unique flavors in their beer. While working at a craft beer bar, customers would come in looking for a Blue Moon and I found that they were more open to drinking craft options. Big Beer opened the door and made it acceptable to try new flavors and this allowed smaller, independent brewers to gain a larger market appeal because of it.
Craft Brewing Business wrote an entire article dedicated to Blue Moon’s marketing strategy and its positive impact on craft beer. Author Chris Crowell, states, “You can focus on the fact that they are kind of misrepresenting the company’s position within the beer marketplace, or you can focus on the fact that a billion-dollar company is throwing its marketing weight behind promoting the concept of craft beer.” I choose the latter.
Big Beer currently uses many questionable business practices to try to keep the craft beer industry down and in no way do I support these actions but it would be uninformed to assume that Big Beer has had no influence on craft beer other than trying to exploit its growth.
Craft beer was created because of a gap in the marketplace left by Big Beer and those brands aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon. It would be a better use of time to focus on improving and expanding craft beer by altering the road map to success Big Beer has laid out and by exploiting their missteps.