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How Bud Light’s Super Bowl Ad Brought MillerCoors Closer to Farmers
The sales data is in for the month following Bud Light’s Super Bowl commercial boasting about the company’s lack of corn syrup in its beer. According to Nielson data, Bud Light is down 6% in sales in the four-week period following the Super Bowl and 4% in 2019. Miller Lite is up 2% in 2019 and flat in the recent four-week period. Coors Light’s four-week sales weren’t made available, but the company is down 1% so far this year.
While it’s not possible to say the drop in sales results directly from the Super Bowl ad, it is fair to say that MillerCoors has done its best to take advantage of the opportunity to build relationships with farmers.
How MillerCoors responded
Adam Collins, the vice president of communications for MillerCoors, was getting ready to head over to his neighbor’s house for the Super Bowl when he first saw the commercial. He was gathering up his young children when the ad from MillerCoors’ biggest competitor, Anheuser-Busch, came on. Anheuser-Busch, after all, is the parent company of Bud Light and the largest brewing company in the U.S.
Collins had a sense something was coming. The Super Bowl is consistently the most-watched program of the year in the U.S., making it the prime spot for advertisers to make a splash.
The Bud Light commercial began with a shipment of corn syrup arriving for the “Bud Light king” who announced it must be a mistake because Bud Light doesn’t brew its beer with corn syrup. It is suggested that the corn syrup must be for Miller Lite or Coors Light since those beers do use corn syrup.
Collins was surprised.
MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch had been working together on a beer industry health campaign. Along with other brewers, the advertisements resembled the “got milk?” campaign, with hopes to improve beer sales in the U.S. after years of declining consumption.
“There’s a place for healthy competition and there’s hateful commentary,” Collins said. “Not that they would just attack us, but that they would attack our beers using American crops was surprising to us and to a lot of people around the country.”
Collins essentially missed the rest of the game and went to work, communicating with the other senior leaders of MillerCoors through e-mail and text message. The company knew it had to stand up for itself, its beer, and American farmers.
On the Tuesday after Super Bowl Sunday, MillerCoors took out a full-page ad in the New York Times in response. “You may have seen an ad on the Big Game going to great lengths to explain that Miller Lite is brewed with ‘corn syrup,’ while Bud Light is not. That’s a fact,” the ad read to start. It then included, “You see, the ‘corn syrup’ we source from America’s heartland helps make Miller Lite taste so great.”
MillerCoors also had Coors Light billboards up across the country two days later. The billboards had #ToastToFarmers at the bottom of the ad with a cornfield below the iconic mountains associated with Coors Light.
The Bud Light ad also got the leaders of MillerCoors out talking to farmers across the country. MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley toured around the Midwest to thank farmers as a part of a national “Toast to Farmers” tour. Collins himself was at Commodity Classic in Orlando, Florida, to talk with farmers.
Collins said in his conversations he could “sense the frustration and almost a sense of pain” from farmers.
MillerCoors Fires Back
The ad that originally aired during the Super Bowl is still making its rounds on television, and MillerCoors has had enough. MillerCoors filed a lawsuit on Thursday in Wisconsin accusing Anheuser-Busch of a “false and misleading advertising campaign targeting Miller Lite and Coors Light in order to deceive beer consumers into believing that there is corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup in Miller Lite and Coors Light to increase sales of Bud Light.”
In the lawsuit, MillerCoors requested Anheuser-Busch stop running its ads targeting Miller Lite and Coors Light, and also launch a new ad campaign to "correct the false and misleading impressions created among consumers” by the ads.
In its lawsuit, MillerCoors also said it's "not ashamed of its use of corn syrup as a fermentation aid.” The lawsuit accused Anheuser-Busch of misleading consumers to think high-fructose corn syrup and corn syrup are used in brewing Miller Lite and Coors Light. MillerCoors said it never uses high-fructose corn syrup, which it states is different from corn syrup, but accuses Anheuser-Busch of using high-fructose corn syrup in drinks such as Rita’s Berry-A-Rita.
"MillerCoors’ lawsuit is baseless and will not deter Bud Light from providing consumers with the transparency they demand,” Gemma Hart, the vice president of communications for Anheuser-Busch, said in a statement to numerous outlets.
On the same day as the lawsuit, Miller Lite launched an ad campaign of its own, set to specifically begin running during the NCAA basketball tournament. One of the Miller Lite ads is set during an apparent filming of a Bud Light commercial with a medievel knight and others lying in a field of flames. A director yells "Cut!” and the knight rises, goes to a tent, and walks past a fridge full of Bud Light to grab a Miller Lite.
Bud Light Defends Appreciation for Farmers
In response, a spokesperson from Anheuser-Busch pointed out that the company has had a long history of supporting farmers, spending $5.5 billion purchasing rice, corn, barley, and hops from American farmers.
“We have nothing but love for our corn growers,” said Jess Newman, director of U.S. agronomy for Anheuser-Busch. “We buy over 16 million bushels a year for some of our really great beers: Busch, Busch Light, Natural Light. The brand is really focusing on transparency. They see that trend. It’s what consumers want and demand, and Bud Light has decided to really lead the movement on that. But from our perspective, it changes nothing about our commitment as a company to the corn grower.”
NCGA Relationship with MillerCoors
When Neil Caskey, the vice president of communications for the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), saw the Bud Light ad during the Super Bowl his “jaw dropped and hit the ground.”
Caskey said it was clear that the American corn farmer was indirectly targeted through the ad.
“This was the Super Bowl,” Caskey said. “This was the grandest stage that’s ever been constructed. This wasn’t something that just popped up on daytime television.”
NCGA responded by tweeting to Bud Light that “America’s corn farmers are disappointed in you,” while thanking Miller Lite and Coors Light for supporting the corn industry.
The NCGA happened to be meeting in Denver, Colorado, for the week following the Super Bowl, which Caskey called “serendipitous” because that’s where Coors Light is headquartered. Pete Coors, the great-grandson of the founder of Coors Brewing Company, Adolph Coors, delivered a truck of beer to the NCGA meeting, creating a friendship between MillerCoors and NCGA.
“It felt like a real turning point from the initial shock of the Bud Light ad,” Caskey said. “We’ve developed a wonderful friendship with the folks at MillerCoors and they are helping tell the positive story of the American corn farmer to the rest of the public.”
It remains to be seen where these trends are headed, but for now, it’s clear Bud Light didn’t gain fans in the farming community.
“I can only speak to who I know personally,” Caskey said. “And up until February 3, my wife was a very loyal Bud Light drinker. Now she is consuming other products.”