It's more than just making the competitor defensive. It's about tone.
8 Feb, 2019FORTUNE.COM
Anheuser Busch InBev opened up a can of worms with its first Super Bowl spot for Bud Light. And while it probably expected a fight, it’s unlikely the company expected to reap the ongoing rewards that have come from that salvo.
The war of words resulting from the commercial, which teased Miller Lite and Coors Lite for using corn syrup in their brewing process, is still ongoing. MillerCoors rallied support from the corn industry immediately after the game and posted a full page ad to the “beer drinkers of America” in Tuesday’s New York Times. On Wednesday, it was Bud Light’s turn to respond, via Twitter.
But rather than adopting the formal, defensive tone of the Times ad, Bud Light kept it … well, light, answering in the voice of its current advertising mascot, the one who started the whole fracas: the Bud Light King.
“Yeeeesh! That escalated quickly,” the company said in a message written on scroll. “You know, I just wanted to return some corn syrup to its rightful owners and here we are… Sorry. Was it a secret or something?”
A message from the King re: Corn Syrup. pic.twitter.com/IukZ0JZPZ3
— Bud Light (@budlight) February 6, 2019
With its Urkel-like “Did I do that?”-like reply, AB InBev is showing that it’s firmly in charge of the conversation. It’s forcing MillerCoors to play its game by defending the ingredients of Miller Lite and Coors Lite. (Corn syrup, like rice in Bud Light, is used as a fermenting agent, not as a sweetener for the beer.) It’s keeping the conversation very much on the forefront of pop culture. And it’s doing so in a light-hearted, humorous way that makes it hard for MillerCoors to deflect, even if AB InBev uses corn syrup in some of its other beer products.
Will the ads affect sales long term? It’s unlikely. The WWE-like theatrics between the brands have been going on for decades with Bud Light long on top, though sales of both brands have declined. And a feud between Big Beer and Big Corn isn’t likely to change that.
What the fight does do, though, is further seal Bud Light’s reputation as the light-hearted, fun beer maker. And expect it to double down on that given the success it has seen with the latest salvo.