Ruined By Success: Why We Shouldn’t Feel Bad For Jim Koch

Boston Beer Company, sire of Sam Adams, is the ultimate embodiment of the American Dream. Launched in co-founder Jim Koch’s kitchen in 1984, the company has since become one of the largest American-owned breweries and raked in over $830 million in sales last year. Having recently celebrated its 30th birthday and a slot at number 21 on Forbes’ Best American Companies list, the Boston Beer Company is at the top of its business game.

But Jim Koch, once referred to as “the Steve Jobs of beer,” is resentful because he thinks you’ve abandoned him.

In a recent article for Boston Magazine, writer Andy Crouch asserts that the burgeoning craft beer movement in the United States has deserted Boston Beer Co. in its pursuit of the microbrew, despite the company’s instrumental role in establishing craft brewing as an enterprise. While Sam Adams is still billed as a “craft beer,” grumblings in the brewing community have called into question whether a brewery that brings in over $600 million in revenue can still be defined as a “craft brewery.”

Once a niche industry, craft beer has become a serious contender in the American alcohol market and boasted upwards of $14 billion in sales in 2014. According to the Brewers Association,

When Sam Adams Boston Lager was introduced in 1985 it was one of the only “craft beers” on the market, making it stand out from contenders like Budweiser and Miller that monopolized the industry. To his credit, Koch’s DIY-style marketing strategy of going bar-to-bar to push his product was an impressive display of devotion, and the company no doubt owes its prowess to Koch’s relentless peddling in its infancy. Now a $2.9 billion company, Boston Beer Co. paved the way for other American craft breweries to make an entrance into the industry by legitimizing the advantages of small batch beer brewing.

Dubious Ethics: Sexism in Alcohol Advertising

American author Tom Robbins once said “The more advertising I see, the less I want to buy.”

Advertising as a business practice has seen a massive evolution over the last century. Between the establishment of brand identities and the advent of social media as a means of product communication, the selling of a product is no longer just about the product. In the modern age businesses are selling images, mindsets, and identities along with their goods and services. Buying a new hair dryer is just as much about what the brand you choose says about you as it is about the necessity for a hair dryer.

Perhaps more than any other major industry, alcohol advertisers have regularly come under fire for both their influence on underage drinkers and history of sexist representations. Since the early 1920’s there has been a deep vein of chauvinism in all manner of alcohol advertising that reflects demeaning attitudes towards women, often reducing them to mere sexual objects. Ads of this ilk serve to exacerbate gender normative expectations for women and create false narratives of female sexuality.

According to May Wilkerson, “If one thing has remained constant in alcohol ads over the last hundred years, it’s the promise that booze can satisfy both your thirst and your sexual desires—just as long as you’re a heterosexual man.” From the gentle misogyny of 1950’s print advertisements to the salacious and scantily clad Super Bowl ads of the last decade, advertisers have frequently employed exploitation of female sex appeal to generate sales. The vast majority of these representations of female sexuality are hyperbolic and unrealistic, generating absurd facsimiles of what it means to be female.

In this image from a 1954 Martini & Rossi advertisement, we see a woman filling her male friends’ glasses but taking none for herself. According to Jean Kilbourne, “She doesn’t have her own glass, but her mouth is open anyway…She is not consuming, bur rather being consumed.”

Image: substance.com

Kilbourne goes on to say that “The emphasis on girls and women is always on being desirable, not experiencing desire.” Though this advertisement is somewhat outdated, images of girls and women placed on a pedestal of desirability is a pervasive theme in advertising. Depictions of alcohol consumption as being “unladylike” were common in the 1950s and 60s, and the modern iteration of that theme is the notion that excessive alcohol consumption or drinking anything that isn’t white wine is distinctly unrefined for a lady. The consequence of these contrived notions is that they create unfair social expectations for women, serving to exacerbate outdated concepts of expected gender roles.

Described by ad critic Bob Garfield as “arguably the most sexist beer commercial ever produced,” the Heineken “draught keg” commercial from 2007 is a cringe-worthy excursion into how Heineken execs view the modern woman:

The ad features a sallow female robot whose uterus magically expands into a miniature keg of Heineken. The ladybot then multiples, either through mitosis or robot tomfoolery, into a troupe of three dancing “iron maidens” all equipped with a keg in utero. Disregarding the veiled allusion to The Stepford Wives, there is something inherently revolting about the notion of a robotic woman whose primary function is to provide you, the consumer, with beer. The suggestion that the ladybot’s only purpose is to serve beer harkens back to the Martini & Rossi ad wherein the woman is permitted to serve but not to consume, and these impressions of restriction contribute to false notions of women’s social functions as obedient and decorative. By reducing a woman to the baseline of a beer-dispensing robot, this advertisement illustrates the motif of “mechanizing women” to serve specific objectives, an expressly dehumanizing notion.

Skyy Vodka is perpetually guilty of reducing women to sexual objects in their advertising. A quick Google search of the company’s print ads reveals a plethora of sex-saturated images, most commonly featuring a scantily clad woman in a provocative pose. Other ads feature heterosexual couples in suggestive entanglements, most often with the male in a visual position of power. There is an emphasis on the women’s lips and legs in these advertisements, proverbially disembodying them and reducing them to their “most attractive” parts.

This image is arguably the most sexist advertisement in Skyy’s repertoire:

Image: lindseyomelon.wordpress.com

The “position of power” occupied by the man holding the vodka and glasses implies that he is the dominant partner; the woman’s supine position below him implies that she is the submissive and thus obedient to her male counterpart. Disregarding the inflated plastic look of the woman’s breasts (seriously, you should probably see a doctor about that), the ad implies that control of women is the ultimate expression of manliness, and the best way to control women is to physically dominate them with vodka.

Budweiser’s Super Bowl Ad Too “Macro” For Its Britches

In the wake of the surge of American microbreweries over the last decade, Budweiser’s 2015 Super Bowl ad targets the low-hanging fruit of mocking craft beer aficionados to bolster its image as the classic American beer.

It’s no secret that America has fallen out of love with Budweiser. Once the number one selling beer in the United States, Budweiser’s popularity has diminished as craft beer has become more in vogue with the boozing gentry and the nationwide push towards supporting independent businesses has driven consumers away from the powerhouse that is Anheuser-Busch. Whether this is a result of cultural revolution or consumers longing for something more appetizing than Bud’s watery swill is uncertain, but Budweiser is nonetheless feeling the ripples of the market shift and apparently getting very, very nervous.

In November the Wall Street Journal published the article “Bud Crowded Out by Craft Beer Craze” detailing the steady decline of Budweiser’s popularity among 21-to-27-year-olds and reporting that only 44 percent of drinkers in that age bracket had ever sipped on a Budweiser. When an ambitious marketing scheme geared towards those fresh young drinkers who so vehemently shun the “King of Beers” failed to pan out, so Budweiser opted for the next best thing: a pretentious, swaggering testimony of their pride as a “macro beer” that ultimately rendered them more jester-like than regal.

Budweiser aired two commercials during the 2015 Super Bowl: one featuring the notorious Clydesdales in a saccharine anecdote about a lost puppy that made America want to weep its collective eyes out, and the other a brash flex of corporate muscle that scoffs at the burgeoning craft beer community as snobbish and aloof.

The ad features cheesy stock footage of Budweiser drinkers engaging in beer-drenched revelry juxtaposed with shots of several men preening in caricatures of hip beer snobs, noses buried to the hilt in their snifter glasses. Bold white block letters onscreen parade such derogatory quips as “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale, we’ll be brewing us some golden suds,” and “It’s brewed for drinking, not dissecting.” To anyone who actually drinks beer the ad is as ludicrous as it is insulting, and even non-drinkers may find themselves questioning the integrity of a massive corporation that seemingly has no qualms about decimating the proverbial “little guy” in the business.

The underlying social issue with this ad is that it creates false narratives of Budweiser drinkers and craft beer geeks as an “us vs. them” paradigm — Bud drinkers are the progenitors of the hard-working American dream, whereas microbrew fans are pretentious hipsters who fawn over their beer like it’s a scientific anomaly. The overly boisterous tone of the ad comes off as a desperate assertion that the company is not at all concerned about their place in an ever-evolving craft beer market.

Anheuser-Busch shelled out approximately $9 million for the 60-second ad, but the irony is that rather than bolstering their profits the ad weakened their credibility among even dedicated drinkers and has spurred a massive backlash in the craft beer community that chortles at Budweiser’s attempted bullying tactic.

Since the release of the commercial, sizable craft breweries like Dogfish Head and South Bend Brew Werks have retaliated against the distasteful ad by jokingly responding that a “pumpkin peach ale” sounds appetizing enough to brew and cheekily thanking Budweiser for the inspiration. Perhaps the best response came from Louisiana-based Abita Brewing Company, who released a 20-second spoof of the original ad to reflect their own mission statement:

The sheer audacity of the phrase “Yeah, we made a pumpkin peach beer, and it was good…damn good,” proves that craft breweries are more amused than threatened by Budweiser’s delusions of grandeur. Despite their self-righteous claims of superiority, the majority of the suffering in the aftermath of the great 2015 Budweiser Super Bowl Fiasco will be done by the Anheuser-Busch ad executives, who by now are surely weeping into pint glasses of their beloved “macro” beer.

Budweiser: King of Beer and Weird Super Bowl Ads

From the cooler to the commercials, the annual spectacle of American debauchery that is the Super Bowl is no stranger to beer. According to Mashable, consumption statistics have estimated that about 325 millions gallons of beer will be swilled on game day, and the pop culture blogosphere has all but erupted with articles on the best beers for Super Bowl parties and how politicized your snack choice is. Amid the bacchanalia of chicken wings and Bud Light bottles there’s also some football, and a slew of costly advertisements desperately fumbling towards originality or absurdity.

Anheuser-Busch, the largest brewing company in the U.S. and the parent brand of Budweiser and the endless parade of its Light and Silver siblings, is a powerhouse for Super Bowl advertising. The company’s commercial for the 1986 Super Bowl (XX for you football fans) gave birth to the Budweiser Clydesdales, the colloquial mascots for which the brand that have made appearances in their Super Bowl ads for almost 30 years. With a game day advertising budget that has exceeded $90 million since 2010 according to Business Insider, Anheuser-Busch takes the Super Bowl, and its commercials, more seriously than die-hard Patriots fans have taken the 2015 Deflate-gate scandal.

The trend in advertising in the post-Reagan era is towards the absurd, and Anheuser-Busch’s Super Bowl commercial game has gotten pretty bizarre over the years. The 2015 Super Bowl will mark the 10 year anniversary of the “Streaker” ad, premiered during Super Bowl XL:

No doubt paying homage to the notorious 2004 Super Bowl streaker, the ad features a freshly shorn sheep showboating for a lineup of Clydesdales in a mock-up of the starting line, causing the other animals to laugh uncontrollably. While it’s certainly a cutesy allusion to the nude antics of football fans, there’s something kind of creepy about the sheep’s ass-shaking towards the end — maybe I’m not as up on sheep physiology as I thought, but I didn’t know they could twerk. Go figure.

And as always, Budweiser reminds you to “drink responsibly,” so that you don’t end up shearing off all your wool and twerking for a bunch of ranch animals. Because some of us need that extra reminder.

One of Budweiser’s most famous commercials, the “Frogs” ad premiered in Super Bowl XXIX in 1995:

Fun fact: this ad was directed by Gore Verbinski of Pirates of the Carribean fame. To this day the “Budweiser frogs” ad is among the most internationally well-known marketing campaigns, so Verbinski was doing something right long before he graced us with the plastered pariah of Jack Sparrow.

As a kid I distinctly remember being terrified of this ad and having an aversion to frogs for many years after, convinced that every toad and spring peeper I came across would no doubt try to peer pressure me into giving them beer, or my soul. By this logic it’s probably no coincidence that I now avoid Budweiser like the plague, and I’m still not terribly fond of frogs. Anheuser-Busch will be getting a bill for my extensive therapy somewhere down the road.

And of course, there’s the Spuds MacKenzie debacle:

Spuds Mackenzie skateboarded his way into our hearts during the 1987 Super Bowl as the new mascot for Bud Light, a watery low-calorie alternative to classic Budweiser. The adorable Bull Terrier was merchandised beyond even Disney’s wildest dreams and mass produced in the form of t-shirts, plush toys, and key chain bottle openers, giving and unlikely credibility to a “light” beer. However, beloved Spuds stirred up some controversy with groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who claimed the canine mascot’s “party lifestyle” aesthetic would encourage underage drinking. Even though an investigation by the FCC revealed no such devious findings, Anheuser-Busch still pulled the pup from its main advertising ring to be used only in special promotions.

Spuds also made headlines when it was discovered that the alpha male “party dog” used in the commercials was, in fact, a female. But despite this shocking revelation, Spuds remained as popular as ever until she was officially “retired” from advertising in 1999. Since then Anheuser-Busch has been wary of using hard-partying animals in its advertisements (Clydesdales are notoriously responsible drinkers), but there was a time when drinking Bud Light made you as cool as a Hawaiian-shirt clad dog on a skateboard. Oh, nostalgia.

In the wake of decades of bizarre and disconcerting Super Bowl advertisements, Budweiser certainly has a warm place in the hearts (and stomachs) of football fans nationwide. Here’s to hoping this year’s advertisements keep in step with themes of animal husbandry and streaking, because there is never enough of that on primetime television.

And if your Super Bowl party ends in you getting naked and twerking for a bunch of cattle, you should probably seek professional help.