What is it about Budweiser's long standing relationship with the World Cup, a full 25 years of status as official beer sponsor, that doesn't sit well with me?
As its global TV campaign rolls out this week, I’m can’t help but wonder why does the lager’s sponsorship of the World Cup feel disingenuous? Why does it feel like the worst kind of bandwagoning and buying in? I think it’s because I can't quite get the saccharine loaded schmaltzy down-home all-Americanness of the rest of The King of Beers' marketing out of my system.
In short, I just don't get the relationship. I've never understood why they are involved with the FA Cup, never mind the global game. But, that's because I'm an Englishman, from working class stock, brought up on a diet of terrace obscenities (when there were terraces) so my take on a beer for football is a fizzy, weak 'British' lager. Something that feels suitably and authentically blue collar. Something that feels matched in terms of sentiment, attitude, outlook. Something for the lads. Like a bag of peanuts taken off an inappropriate hanging card behind a beery, cheery bar.
To our cousins across the pond, the relationship is perfect. They don't have a hundred year hangover of football being a working class sport. Major League Soccer in the US has just matched Major League Baseball in terms of popularity amongst pre-drinking age youths. Rumour has it the MLS is just about to sign a significantly improved TV rights deal adding a much needed cash injection to its clubs sorry, ‘franchises’, allowing them to enter the transfer markets with more weight. Football (or soccer, if you will) looks like a sleeping giant about to wake up in one of the most lucrative sports markets in the world. Maybe Budweiser's long game is about to pay off?
If a brand has a supportive, band of brothers approach to its endorsements and makes the right call in whichever sport (or pastime) it backs, and most importantly gets in early and activates consistently well, that brand is cemented to the game in consumers’ perceptions. Think of Heineken and European Cup Rugby. Middle-class, professional, a discerning choice. Much like the game itself.
In the USA, the game of 'soccer' has finally found its voice and it is not a middle class voice, it is not a working class voice. It's an ‘All American, everyman, tailgate party, buddies together’ voice.
The game of soccer in America is being presented as a game that is American.
The game is on the rise because it's not trying to be something it's not. It has a huge appeal to Hispanic audiences living in the US but isn't pandering to them. It's not trying to be true to the game's European roots, although it does employ a good smattering of ex pros as pundits.
No, the game of soccer in America is being presented as a game that is American. That's why a classic American beer such as Budweiser is a perfect match (pun intended) for the big match, and well done AB-InBev for being strategic and applying its considerable product portfolio in other markets.
So, it’s a perfect storm; the biggest predicted World Cup TV audience ever, a media partnership with a network that understands the game and its fans in the USA (Fox that are rumoured to be signing the TV rights deal for MLS), and a beer that is as American as apple pie.
It may not be to my taste (the beer or the endorsement) but Budweiser is playing a strategic game worthy of the national team coaches whose talents will be on show in Brazil this Summer.
Matthew Bennett is founder and CCO at drink part of ZAK Media Group
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