ST. LOUIS – One might think that other big U.S. brewers would be happy with Anheuser-Busch Cos. (BUD), which is spending millions on a national ad campaign to promote beer drinking over wine or cocktails.
But last Friday, Miller Brewing Co. sent its regards to Anheuser-Busch by hiring a pilot to buzz its headquarters while toting a banner — and the message was no thanks. Miller took the opportunity to call the King of Beers a liar for statements it recently made about its beer recipe. The banner read, "Sire Sire Pants On Fire!"
So much for happy hour among the nation's leading beer-makers.
Anheuser-Busch initially touted its "Here's to Beer" campaign as a way for beer companies to set aside their differences and fight the common enemy of wine and spirits. The St. Louis brewer even sent a vice president around the country to drum up support for the campaign.
The response has been flat. No other brewer has pitched in money to help the effort because it would benefit Anheuser-Busch more than anyone else since A-B owns 50 percent of the beer market share. The Beer Institute trade group yanked its logo off the campaign after the first television ad ran during the Super Bowl. The institute would not say why.
Anheuser-Busch isn't discouraged. The company launched two "Here's to Beer" television ads last month and will unveil a new Web site for the campaign next week. Vice President Bob Lachky said the company is happy to carry the banner for all brewers nationwide.
"The reality of it is, this program really doesn't need brewer support," Lachky said. "We kind of always envisioned this thing as being an Anheuser-Busch-led initiative."
Lachky wouldn't say how much the campaign has cost, although he said it's a tiny part of Anheuser-Busch's advertising budget.
The stakes are high for the maker of Budweiser, Bud Light and other beers. Still easily the nation's largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch said sales were stagnant and profit was down last year largely because beer drinkers are choosing other types of alcohol.
It's not surprising that brewers didn't unite behind Anheuser-Busch, said Benj Steinman, president of an industry newsletter, Beer Marketer's Insights.
"They don't agree on a heck of a lot," Steinman said. "Getting all the brewers on the same page ... let's put it this way, it happens on issues like advertising restrictions or class-action lawsuits."
Lachky traveled last year to offices of competitors, such as Miller in Milwaukee, and Molson Coors Brewing Co. in Golden, Colo. He said he also met with craft brewers at trade shows.
"While we can support the intentions behind a general industry campaign, we don't have the resources that Anheuser-Busch has, so we need to make sure that all of our resources are working as hard as they can for our individual brands," said Miller spokesman Pete Marino.
Heineken USA Inc. spokesman Dan Tearno said not all brewers have the same interests. While beer sales are flat overall, many consumers have been turning to micro-brews and imports like Heineken, so the company felt no need to support generic beer industry advertising.
"We thought it was a positive campaign, but it was a campaign that more closely fits the needs of Anheuser-Busch and less closely fits the needs of the overall industry," Tearno said. "We're quite happy with our business profile this year."
No. 3 brewer Coors declined to comment.
While brewers are sitting out the campaign, Lachky said Anheuser-Busch is focusing its efforts on beer wholesalers. Next week, the company will launch a Web site called http://www.herestobeermarkerting.com that will offer beer wholesalers free promotional materials.
"The thing we learned as we went along is that the real audience of this is the beer distributor," Lachky said.