Darwinian Advolution: Canning the Bollocks

In the paleolithic era, Homo sapiens was able to prevail over Homo neanderthalis as the dominant species on the planet. While the neanderthals were larger and possessed more brute strength, H. sapiens were more intelligent and could develop more sophisticated means of survival. The struggle to secure business through marketing communications can be just as brutal. Welcome to the first installment of Darwinian Advolution, a series that will examine both the nimble, adaptable advertisers who will rule the future and their dull, clumsy competitors who are in danger of falling by the wayside. In observance of Super Bowl XLIX, I can think of no better place to start than with the definitive (non-football) winner and loser from the most viewed TV broadcast in America. You know what? Let’s make it even more appropriate for the occasion: Super Bowl beer advertising, here we come!


Ad. neanderthalis: Budweiser

Magificent horses! An adorable puppy! What would Super Bowl advertising be without them? I have no clue what animal friendships have to do with the appeal of the beer itself, but who am I to argue with tradition. Budweiser’s first ad to air during the game was exactly that, a much expected appearance by some beloved mascots. Honestly, even I felt a little moved by the resolve and camaraderie those animals showed.

The second spot, on the other hand, was a bit of a curve ball, featuring a lot less cute and a whole lot more spite. Budweiser must have just grown tired of not having product-focused advertising. They wanted to strut their stuff and decided the best way to do so was with bold text overlaid on fast-cutting images of bars and other revelry. We were treated to 60 seconds of sneering at craft beer culture while being told to buy more Bud because it was really, really hard to make. (I paraphrased slightly here, but it’s not that far off. See for yourself.)

The most telling (written) line of the commercial? “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale.” A clear shot at microbrews with unorthodox flavors and ingredients. But wait a second… AB InBev, which owns Budweiser, is acquiring the Washington-based Elysian Brewing Company, a rather celebrated operation. This move has already received a lot of flack. Well it just so happens that Elysian created Gourdia on My Mind Peach Pumpkin Amber. Apparently Budweiser thought the best way to welcome the new brewery to the family was to spit on their work. I’m far from the only who noticed; Twitter and beer-focused social network Untappd have been alight with criticism, and even one of Elysian’s co-founders has weighed in with his dissatisfaction.

So last night Budweiser and, by extension, AB InBev confirmed what many already know; the conglomerate has no interest in the quality or diversity of its products. They simply want to recapture market share by any means necessary. Their backpedaling social media activity over the past 24 hours has been a plethora of pathetic canned responses that all the puppies and Clydesdales in the world couldn’t fix. It turns out that $4.5 million is the going rate for instantly alienating consumers these days.


Ad. sapiens: Newcastle Brown Ale

Unless you lived in a small regional market in California, you might be ready to correct me on this one. By most accounts Newcastle didn’t show up last night to battle for viewers’ attention. In fact, they made a huge stink about not showing up, and that’s exactly why they’re walking home a winner.

When it comes to blunt and deadpan humor in advertising, Newcastle has been leading the charge. Or should I say, Newcastle and their agency Droga5. Since 2012, they’ve been keeping true to the slogan “No Bollocks,” proudly declaring that the tactics that drive most traditional advertising are beneath them. Mainly through video advertising, they’ve made sure to tell us that Wil Wheatonfancy beer glasses, and American patriotism all aren’t really worth their time either.

This is the imported beer brand’s second consecutive year snubbing the Super Bowl, if you will, and both times they’ve stayed true to their simple, if unrefined, slogan. Last year they teased us with absurd storyboards and a bleeped out rant from Anna Kendrick about how the ad they would have made. This year they hedged their bets with two sarcastic attempts at appearing serious about landing airtime. Aubrey Plaza called on other brands to share the TV spot and enormous price tag, although she couldn’t care less by the second video. Meanwhile Newcastle tried to enter Doritos’ an anonymous chip company’s viewer-made ad contest with this subtle number.

Sadly, for most Americans, no such ad aired during last night’s broadcast. Fortunately for Newcastle, the company’s five videos centered around Super Bowl XLIX have received nearly 4,000,000 collective views and counting. That’s not a captive audience; those are people actively seeking out Newcastle Brown Ale advertising.

Funny enough, Newcastle openly mocks its audience (along with its spokespersons and employees) on a regular basis. So how do they not suffer exponentially more backlash than Budweiser received, and continues to receive, for last night gaffe? Beyond the laugh factor, Newcastle is emphasizing one very important idea. Through snarky comments and a disinterested tone, the “No Bollocks” campaign implies that Newcastle is far too focused on brewing a quality product to really care about fancy promotional tactics. When Budweiser and AB InBev attempted to focus the advertising on their product, they defaulted to being genuinely venomous, proving that Bud is hardly “a beer for all people.”

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