Food & Drink

Five O'clock Somewhere: Budweiser eyes coveted hipster demographic

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Over the last few decades, thanks to the loosening of brewing laws in America, we've seen a beer revolution. This country used to have just a few large brewers making beer that just about tasted the same. Now there are thousands of breweries, many of them small, and hundreds of them making their appeals to today's drinkers. But where does that leave the country's large breweries?

They're not going anywhere soon, of course. Walk into almost any tavern in metro Detroit, and you're still more likely to see tap handles representing large American (that is to say, foreign-owned) breweries, pumping out tankard after tankard of the beer your father drinks. But it seems the people at the top of these companies are getting a little ... nervous?

Take the latest word on advertisements for Budweiser. Around this time of year, you'd expect to see the company's classic ads featuring Clydesdales, the high-stepping horses whose hair covers their hooves — not hipsters, the high-concept drinkers whose hair covers their faces. But, there it is: Budweiser's new ads show style-conscious young drinkers, that is to say hipsters, drinking Bud. (Of course, say, "Want some bud?" to many of these young people, and they'll expect to be smoking it, not drinking it.)

If these measures seem somewhat desperate, it's worth noting that Budweiser's market share has dropped to almost half what it was a decade ago, due to increasing pressure from craft beer and changing generational tastes. One industry expert noted that, among the huge segment of young drinkers, almost half of them had never tried Budweiser.

Of course, as culturally engaged people know, hipsters do drink some old-fashioned beer, namely Pabst Blue Ribbon, which has enjoyed such success that it was sold to a Russian firm for $700 million this year. What drives Pabst's success? Perhaps it was the brewer's strict no-advertising policy that helped put it over the top for a generation defiant in the face of force-fed fashion.

Which brings up an interesting point: How do you advertise to a generation that prides itself on being more sophisticated than advertising companies? For that matter, can you change your image via a bunch of television commercials when that generation has its eyes fixed firmly on its smartphones?

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