Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s move to rebrand its Budweiser cans “America” this summer marks a new extreme in a shift toward patriotic corporate marketing, a trend boosted by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Hershey Co. changed the lettering on its chocolate bars last month to red, white and blue for the first time in 122 years, a nod to its sponsorship of the U.S. Olympic team. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has sought to stock stores with more “made in the USA” products. And the Carl’s Jr. fast-food chain created a sandwich last year called the Most American Thickburger (slogan: “Because America, that’s why”).
Companies’ motivation to wrap themselves in the flag has only intensified during Trump’s ascent to the Republican nomination. The maker of Hydrox cookies sought the candidate’s help to promote its made-in-America snacks at a time when rival Oreo was sending jobs to Mexico. For apparel maker CaliHeadwear, meanwhile, manufacturing hats with slogans like Trump’s “Make America Great Again” has brought fresh business.
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“Patriotism has been a way to market goods for a long time, but with the intensity of the spotlight on Trump and the campaign -- with ‘Make America Great Again’ as his core message -- a lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon,” said Allen Adamson, the former North American chairman of the branding firm Landor Associates.
Budweiser’s new packaging, which replaces the name of the beer simply with “America,” will hit stores May 23 and last through the election, according to Ricardo Marques, vice president of marketing for the brand. The cans also will replace the “King of Beers” slogan with “E Pluribus Unum.”
On Wednesday, Trump took credit for the move.
He was asked on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends” if Trump’s campaign had something to do with Budweiser’s decision. “I think so,” the presumptive Republican nominee said. “They’re so impressed with what our country will become that they decided to do this before the fact.”
Statue of Liberty
The rebranded cans are just one of AB InBev’s efforts to harness election mania in its U.S. marketing. Bottles and cans with a magnified view of the Statue of Liberty’s torch will also be on store shelves through mid-September.
A separate campaign for Bud Light that began during the Super Bowl harps on a similar theme. It features commercials with comedians Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer, who go on a mock election trail heralding the power of Bud Light to bring people together.
“This is going to be the most patriotic summer that this generation has ever seen -- with the Olympics, COPA America, the 100th anniversary of the National Park and the presidential race,” Marques said. “We want this packaging to inspire people to celebrate America and Budweiser’s shared love for freedom and authenticity.”
Still, the push has drawn some flak on social media from critics, who note that Budweiser’s parent company is based in Belgium.
AB InBev has plenty of company in waving the flag. Coca-Cola Co. is creating a limited addition can with the lyrics of “I’m Proud to Be an American” in honor of the 75th anniversary of the United Service Organizations.
MillerCoors is changing top and bottom case panels on Miller Lite packaging so that retailers can build a display that looks like the Stars and Stripes, according to spokesman Jonathan Stern.
“We’ll also continue our partnership with Guy Fieri talking about grilling, the quintessential American activity,” he said.
Wal-Mart pledged in 2013 to purchase about $250 billion in products made in the U.S. by 2023. The company is working with suppliers to help them find ways to add domestic manufacturing jobs, and Wal-Mart holds an annual summit to connect with companies making products in the U.S.
The effort hasn’t been with out controversy, though. The company was investigated last year by the Federal Trade Commission over whether it was mislabeling products on its website as domestically manufactured. Wal-Mart eventually removed the “Made in the USA” logo from its website to help resolve the investigation.
U.S.-based brands aren’t the only ones to use patriotism as a marketing strategy.
Mondelez International's Cadbury Dairy Milk bars launched a “Keep Singing, Keep Team GB Pumped” campaign in 2011, aiming to capitalize on national support of Team Great Britain. The seven-month musical support for British athletes was part of Cadbury’s 2012 Olympic Games sponsorship.
“While it’s always been a tactic relevant to some marketers and some audiences, the election spotlight is going to make it more enticing for many marketers to try,” Adamson said.
That doesn’t mean it will work. For Bud, the packaging will give them a short term bump, but it won’t solve bigger problems, he said.
“It’s an interesting promotional idea for them, but I don’t think it’ll change the long-term challenge they have in fending off the huge number of craft beers that are eating their lunch,” he said.
News by Bloomberg, edited Hospitality Ireland