Drink Magazine

A Few Words on … Budweiser Black Crown and ‘How to Sell a Beer’

By Bryan Roth @bryandroth
Black Crown image via Beast.com

Black Crown image via Beast.com

If you’re among the 108 million Americans who watched the Super Bowl last weekend, chances are you also caught a glossy new ad for Budweiser’s glossy, new Black Crown:

This is the second-straight year our macro-beer friends have released a new brew, following last year’s Bud Light Platinum. That beer, a 6 percent ABV version of the most-sold brew in America, has done really well and already has a 1 percent market share – roughly equivalent to Sam Adams.

Black Crown is another 6 percent ABV entry. With macro beer sales lagging, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic sees AB InBev’s offering as a sign “that drinkers are asking for one simple thing. More alcohol, please.” (via How to Sell a Beer: The Economics of the New Budweiser Black Crown)

Thompson goes on to suggest that American interest in high-ABV and craft beer is ultimately what’s behind the birth of Platinum, Black Crown and why Anheuser-Busch bought Goose Island. (I agree with the Goose Island part)

It’s no secret – craft beer business is booming. But let’s get one thing straight:  high ABV ≠ craft beer ≠ sustained sales.

America isn’t Britain, where binge drinking is a serious national problem. For many alcohol brands in England, high ABV does mean strong, sustained sales. In America, smart brewers are making taste-driven craft beers that  sometimes – not always – feature higher ABVs. They also offer something Black Crown doesn’t: amazing taste.

If that weren’t the case, breweries would simply shoot for high alcohol and focus less on flavor, which it seems is what Black Crown offers, based on reviews. However, through the growth of interest in session beers and craft beer in general, we know innovation, new tastes and experiences help drive the craft beer market. This is why one-trick ponies like Amstel Light or Budweiser Select don’t last long.

So maybe we shouldn’t think as much of “why” Black Crown exists (to make money) but the “who” (that money is coming from). Who is Black Crown for? The answer probably lies within Ab InBev’s last launch. Who was Bud Light Platinum for?

Bud executives believe the beer’s comically narrow appeal — it’s a party beer for people who want to look upwardly mobile while watching their calorie count — is actually the key to its success. Bud Light Platinum is, on purpose, designed to appeal to people in a four-year age span: “24 to 27 is really that sweet spot,” says Bud Light Vice President Mike Sundet of Platinum’s target audience. “Really co-ed. And it’s less than a demographic than a mind-set. It’s the consumer who’s out at night, looking for that nightlife party time experience. Very interested in social media. Frequently interested in attending live music shows.”

Which also explains the content of the Black Crown commercial. While it doesn’t really deviate from most macro beer ads – a bunch of pretty 20-somethings dancing at a party – it does fit in exactly with what Sundet mentions above. But what it doesn’tdo is provide the answer to “How to Sell a Beer.”

We know craft beer is doing well. We know 50 percent of craft beer customers are 25 to 34.We know that same 50 percent are also interested in drinking local craft beer. This is the segment Budweiser is shooting for with Platinum or Black Crown … and yet, time and time again, we’re seeing craft beers of all sorts of ABV shapes and sizes performing well.

Does this mean high-ABV brews are the key to market share or a customer’s attention? To me, how to sell a beer is still focused on what it’s always been about: quality.

What do you think?

+Bryan Roth

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