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

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 might mean strong, sustained sales. (Update: Chris, below, points out otherwise) 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’t do 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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18 thoughts on “A Few Words on … Budweiser Black Crown and ‘How to Sell a Beer’

    • … and I doubt that Bud would ever want to stray far from their traditional/historic recipe. They’re certainly amazing at quality control and consistency.

      I think my biggest issue is that in order to combat quality craft beer, their answer has been to either buy competition to get in the game (Goose Island) or have a gimmick (more alcohol). Although, I suppose Bud Light Lime-a-Rita is some form of innovation…

      Thanks for sharing your two cents!

  1. There is a difference with how Black Crown is being marketed compared with anything else though, and that’s that it was chosen by consumers from a pannel of different offerings to be the new Bud flavor. Now I can’t imagine that any of the beers that were presented during the promotion were all that different, but the point is this isn’t InBev’s idea that they’re trying to promote as the next big thing. America spoke and we said we’d like our brown flavored water to have more booze in it, and if it doesn’t sell, well that’s our fault too.

    • A few interesting notes on this…

      1 – the ingredients used for Black Crown are essentially the same as regular Budweiser. This Serious Eats review notes two-row and Caramel malts, which is a slight deviations from two-row and six-row malts used in regular Budweiser. In both cases, two-row would act as the base malt and with Black Crown, Caramel may only be used to add some extra flavor. Black Crown probably has some difference in hop usage, I’m sure.

      2 – Black Crown is “beechwood aged,” which is the same as regular Budweiser. However, in both cases, beechwood doesn’t impart flavor as opposed to something like oak. Rather, beechwood is simply used as a means to encourage greater fermentation. AB InBev still wants all their brews to go from grain to glass in about three weeks, so residual flavors aren’t their thing.

      3 – If you go back to the Serious Eats review, you’ll notice Project 12 batch No. 91406 – which became Black Crown – just happened to be marketed in the classic white and red Budweiser colors. That’s a conscious decision made my marketers, so it certainly means something.

      OR MAYBE IT’S ALL JUST A GIANT CONSPIRACY

      • You can deny all the things I’ve seen, all the things that I’ve discovered. But not for much longer. ‘Cause too many others know what’s happening out there. And no one—no government agency, no brewery—has jurisdiction over the truth!

      • I can’t easily find a specific answer, but my guess is yes since it’s a core ingredient in their process. If I remember correctly, that was part if this “Project 12” effort – come up with a new beer while still adhering to traditional ingredients.

        Thanks so much for coming by and asking!

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  5. American craft beers are way stronger than most British beer. Very few British drinkers would drink a pint of something as strong as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, let alone some of the other American stuff. It’s not ABV that causes binge drinking, just people consuming large amounts of moderate or low strength beer. The biggest selling British ale is John Smiths, which is 3.6% and most of the mass produced lagers over here are less than 5%.

    • You’re completely right, Chris! Thanks for calling me out on that. The sentence in question must’ve slipped from my fingers and I didn’t attribute it properly. I appreciate the catch.

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