It wasn't pretty. It also wasn't accurate.
The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, ABC News and hundreds of media outlets led off a holiday week with doomsayer headlines promising a 2015 Super Bowl without a Budweiser Clydesdale commercial!
No Clydesdales, they reported. And don't look for those snowy holiday ads with the jingles bells in the Vermont hills, either.
The Clydesdales are out, zombies and rappers are in, the articles said, when it comes to marketing Budweiser. The aging Bud drinker who loves the Clyesdales is bad news for Bud sales, the news suggested.
To read some of the hyped-up headlines, you might assume that the Clydesdales were being put out to pasture permanently, not just as stars of a commercial.
Nasty comments soon surfaced on the Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser Facebook pages. Chat rooms heated up. If anyone needed proof that these horses are a national cultural icon, this was it.
Consider George Stephanopoulos and friends lamenting the loss today on Good Morning America:
It took until mid-afternoon for the St. Louis-based brewery to clear the air. The Clydesdales--and their ads--aren't going anywhere.
Their press statement simply said:
"The story this morning may have left a wrong impression – the Budweiser Clydesdales will, in fact, be featured in next year’s Super Bowl advertising and are also a part of upcoming holiday responsible drinking advertising.
"The Clydesdales play a strong role for the brand, representing Budweiser quality and care for more than 80 years. As icons of the brand—and relevant symbols of integrity, perfection and team spirit for all generations—they are important to the brand and our campaigns."
Let's not forget that the Budweiser Clydesdale commercials are always among the top--if not the #1 favorite--ads aired during the Super Bowl each year. And that is a tough competition to ace, year after year after year.
In 2014, the "Puppy Love" Clydesdale commercial was nominated for two Emmy awards.
Do you really give up on that kind of guaranteed audience and marketing attention?
For The Jurga Report, this is deja vu. We've been here before. This is the second time I've written this story for this blog. The same thing happened in 2010, soon after Budweiser was purchased by InBev, a super-brewery holding company based in Belgium.
In what turned out to be a brilliant marketing move, Budweiser asked fans to vote on their Facebook page: should one of the company's nine reserved ad slots on the Super Bowl include a Clydesdale ad?
The response showed the high esteem in which the horses are held by the American public. We can only assume that many people who love the hitch don't drink beer. Or enough beer.
Budweiser's problem, according to today's negative press, is that college students prefer "craft" beers. That's interesting, too. Most college students are famously short on cash, how can they afford pricey boutique brands of beer?
Will zombie ads get college kids to drink their fathers' favorite brand? We all know the answer to that question.
Budweiser stands to lose the market it has by alienating older drinkers and Clydesdale fans.
My solution for Budweiser is a marketing plan built around the brand as a right of passage. When you're old enough, your dad offers you a Bud from the cooler when you're at the lake. When you've worked hard enough, the head cowboy tosses a young kid a Bud. When a kid finally gets to ski with the pros, he looks around and notices they're all drinking Bud, and tries to hide his "Autumn Porter Full Moon Fandango" craft beer.
And when you're ready to step up to the American icon brand, you'll hear hoofbeats of Clydesdales as you take your first sip.
And remember that moment for the rest of your life.
Go Bud. The beer that lasts a lifetime.
That approach even dovetails with their responsible drinking campaign; it's hard to imagine a zombie spokesman for designated drivers.
What would your advice to Budweiser be?