"Keep your politics out of my beer" is a surprisingly common sentiment. The subject of beer politics periodically breaks into the mainstream, most recently with Budweiser's Superbowl ad, but deep in the beer bubble as I am, it's fundamental. Beer is political, in a small-p kind of way, and those politics affect you whether you like it or not.
In an example of irony that's all-too familiar these days, the "keep your politics out of my beer" crowd is made up of many of the same people that are now boycotting Budweiser for "Born the Hard Way", their pro-immigration Superbowl ad. The cinematic commercial tells a fictional tale of the meeting between Adolphus Busch and Eberhard Anheuser, the two German immigrants who created Budweiser and built Anheuser-Busch (now AB-InBev, the world's biggest brewing company).
In reality, Busch was born to a wealthy family in Germany and received a quality education in Brussels. Rather than making his own way to America, he immigrated together with his three older brothers to St. Louis, where he married Anheuser's daughter before spending 6 months fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Only after the war did he enter his wife's family business.
The ad shamelessly embraces the company's immigrant roots at a time when racism in America is at a high point, and so it predictably triggered some calls for a boycott of the country's best-selling beer. Forgive me if I assume that most of the people buying into this boycott (pun intended) are probably unknowingly drinking a different AB-InBev-owned beer. It's hard not to.
It's even harder for Canadian bigot. Molson's latest in a series of stunt-based ads is a brilliant tweak to their "Canadian beer fridge" marketing campaign. In past installments, they've put a bright red beer fridge into public squares around the world that can only be opened by scanning a Canadian passport. In the latest, the fridge is set up on a non-descript Canadian pedestrian street and reads "Say I am Canadian to open fridge". The catch? It has to recognize the phrase spoken in six different languages before the fridge will open.
So now far-right Canadians have to boycott Molson-Coors as well as AB-InBev, which eliminates 9 of the top 10 best-selling beers in Canada. If you don't like immigrants, I hope you like Heineken.
I've spent almost four years criticizing these two companies (especially AB-InBev) and shooting down any arguments that it's actually hard to consistently brew American adjunct lagers (it's not) and that their beers are actually well-made examples of the style (they're not). But I'm genuinely very impressed with Molson and Budweiser for having the bravery to release these ads.
Bird Strategy's work on the Molson ad is the kind of thing that makes me excited to be in marketing. The beer fridge campaign is a brilliant piece of marketing that logically builds on the "I Am Canadian" brand while excising the problematic, sexist and stale "party" elements that used to make up those ads. It's cool, it's human, and it's inclusive.
Budweiser's ad is even more impressive. It's beautifully made, more like a short film, and was unleashed at the most heavily-viewed sports event of the year to a nation as divided as it's ever been in my lifetime. The president is promising to build a wall, and Budweiser releases an explicitly pro-immigration commercial. That's brave.
Yes, this was probably filmed before election night. Even so, there's no way this was an accident. Budweiser could've pulled it – they had enough time to make another ad to fill their Superbowl timeslot. They had to know that people would cry boycott, and they didn't care. This is nothing short of a statement. Budweiser did something I didn't think they'd ever do – they chose a side.
Beer is political. The industry affects people's lives. Marketing affects people's sense of identity. Manufacturing jobs affect local economies. Small business affects neighbourhood development. Large business affects public policy. Public policy affects our culture. Keep politics out of your beer? Keep plugging your ears.