Pour Some Corn Syrup on Me – Breaking Down Bud Light’s Backfire

I’ve written in the past about companies that make “bold brand moves” – taking a position in the marketplace that is going to drive strong reaction. My team at InnerView always wonders how companies are communicating expectations to frontline employees about the role they play in supporting the brand position.

The folks at Bud Light give us our latest example, with their “beer ingredients” campaign. If you have not seen them yet, you must ONLY watch Netflix because they are all over TV with ads. The gist of the campaign is this, Bud Light’s competitors brew their beer with corn syrup and Bud Light does not. Seems straightforward. They are claiming to have product superiority because of their ingredients. Bud Light is trying to win market share from other light beer brands with this claim.

However, how do you back up that claim and align your entire sales and distribution chain behind what the ad wizards whipped up for the Super Bowl spot?

Show Me the Research
Bud Light must have consumer research showing that people think corn syrup is bad for them, and therefore, should switch their light beer of choice to them. One of the biggest gaps I typically see between marketing and their sales channels is a lack of data sharing. If marketing has stats about what customers want, they need to be translating that data into digestible forms and sharing it with anyone who represents the brand. In an industry that lacks compelling product differentiation, this type of information is extremely valuable.

Take your local beer distributors. They have reps out on the street fighting for tap space in bars and stock slots in refrigerator shelves. Reps who can tell a story about why their product is preferred to the competition, and back it up with data, will win more business. The implications of the ad campaign can and need to trickle down to this level. Brand representatives should be equipped to make the most of the opportunity if the campaign is authentic and impactful.

What If They are Faking It?
What if the campaign isn’t authentic? What if it is not based on real data, but rather on misinformation. If you’re like me, you immediately thought “corn syrup” was somehow related to “high-fructose corn syrup”, a manufactured sugar product that has gotten a bad rap in recent years. It isn’t. Rather, it is an ingredient in the fermentation process. It doesn’t add sugar or any other particularly offensive ingredients into the beer itself. Bud Light’s competitors were quick to blow the whistle on this bait and switch messaging campaign and clarify what this means for consumers.

Instead of providing the front-line brand representatives with ammunition to earn new business, this campaign created a controversy. This leaves the sales team, distributors and everyone down to your local bartender to have to deal with customer reactions. Now this isn’t a major controversy on par with some other brands who claim to have “better ingredients” (ahem…Papa John’s), but it is still a gaffe.

Coordination is Needed
In the modern marketing environment, marketing stunts are harder to pull off now more than ever. Brands that don’t integrate across all customer interactions lose credibility. A commercial can’t define the brand. Bud Light pulled a slight of hand with this campaign, and yes, it might have been clever and funny. The downside is that Bud Light thought it could fool everyone, including their own customers and brand representatives.

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