Last week the Twittersphere was chirping loudly and negatively in response to reports that Belgian-owned Inbev would be replacing the Budweiser brand name with “America” on beer cans, as shown above. No bow-tie can shape in this campaign, but the logo is to be on the can’s back.
Headlines like these, suggesting a permanent change probably fueled the negative reaction to the news, but a closer read would reveal that the contemplated “re-brand” would be temporary, only lasting through this year’s Presidential election in November:
- “Budweiser is Making a Truly Ridiculous Name Change”
- “Budweiser Has a New Name, and That Name is America”
- “Anheuser-Busch Renames Budweiser as ‘America'”
- “Budweiser Just Renamed Its Beer ‘America'”
When brand owners decide to announce a re-brand, name change, or new logo, they realize there will be no shortage of critics, so in most cases there is a strong business reason for the change. Either something is not working or an opportunity is being missed.
I’m thinking both may apply here. Market share is being lost to the surge of craft brew interest, and with all the election year political hype, Inbev’s approach of taking Budweiser’s typical patriotic branding to a new level, is gaining lots of free media attention in a busy news cycle.
Let’s face it, Inbev would never permanently trade in one of the most valuable beer brands for what is probably the most watered-down name (from a trademark perspective) for a beer in the United States, namely America. It’s just not very unique or own-able, as this sample of third party trademark registrations illustrates:
- MillerCoors: AMERICA’S FINE LIGHT BEER®
- D.G. Yuengling & Son: AMERICA’S OLDEST BREWERY®
- Veteran Beverage: AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT BEER®
- American Beer Company: THE OFFICIAL BEER OF AMERICA!®
- Pabst: AMERICA’S ORIGINAL IPA®
- Boston Beer Company: AMERICA’S GO TO BEER®
- Stroh Brewery: AMERICA’S BEST® (now expired)
- G.Heileman Brewing: AMERICA’S QUALITY BEER® (now expired)
Actually, this isn’t the first time Anheuser-Busch has thought about aligning itself with the AMERICA name. More than ten years ago it tried to federally-register AMERICA’S BEER for beer, but gave up five years later after a persistent geographically-descriptive refusal blocked it.
Keeping in mind that trademarks are “use it or lose it” rights, Inbev no doubt has at least a few trademark types behind the scenes managing this campaign to avoid trademark abandonment problems that would open the door to ownership of the Budweiser name by another.
I’m looking forward to purchasing a case later this month when AMERICA becomes available on store shelves. I’ll particularly enjoy checking out all the content on the can (including possible non-traditional trademarks), and if nothing else, keep it as a collector’s item, and perhaps a prop for some great upcoming trademark storytelling opportunities.
Finally, let’s wait and see whether InBev’s temporary replacement of THE KING OF BEERS with E PLURIBUS UNUM, as part of the America campaign, will draw any fire from a woman in Wisconsin who owns a federal trademark registration for E PLURIBUS CEREVISIA UNUM for beer, or whether that registration is safe to ignore as abandoned, dead-wood on the Principal Register (it’s in the grace period until August).
Marketing types and trademark types, what is your perspective on Inbev’s America campaign and the Twittersphere’s negative reaction to it?
UPDATE: Check out my discussion of this topic on WCCO Radio’s News and Views With Roshini Rajkumar, here, which aired Sunday May 15 at 12:20 PM CST.