MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch fight over farmers in aftermath of Bud Light's Super Bowl ad
Ad meter 2019: Bud Light's goes medieval on brewing in their first of three Super Bowl ads. USA TODAY
The now-infamous-in-the-heartland Bud Light commercial knocking corn syrup was only the beginning.
All-out war has been declared on the hearts and minds of beer drinkers, and the latest battle has taken place over a hashtag.
Last week, MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley journeyed to Iowa and went bar hopping to promote his company's new #ToastToFarmers hashtag, a promotional social media device to help track and promote MillerCoors’ appreciation of farmers and their promotion of brands like Miller Lite and Coors Light.
The Super Bowl spot from Bud Light critical of corn syrup being used in competitor's products was mentioned during a 2018 fourth-quarter earnings call for Molson Coors Brewing Co., the parent company of MillerCoors. In the call, Hattersley called the promotion that caused pushback from Iowa's agricultural community a "gift" from their beer industry rival.
"Anheuser-Busch could not have handled it as a better gift if they tried harder," he said. The call occurred amid a reported 0.7 percent annual net sales decline and a 28.7 percent decrease in annual net income for Molson Coors.
When asked if the Bud Light advertisement created a perceived vulnerability in the Iowa beer market that MillerCoors was positioned to take advantage of with its #ToastToFarmers promotion, Hattersley demurred, claiming the campaign was purely about appreciating MillerCoors’ farming partners.
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Despite claims of his trip not being part of a broader marketing strategy, Hattersley personally traveled to bars across Iowa last Friday vocally promoting his company's beer among the very audience that was most vocal about feeling spurned by Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light.
Mackenzie Eddie, the Altoona, Iowa, resident who posted a video to Twitter of her pouring corn syrup into a Bud Light during the Super Bowl, met with Hattersley and interviewed him on behalf of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, an advocate of corn products.
Anheuser-Busch and their Busch brand, however, were not content to sit idly on the sidelines. Instead, they launched their own initiative and promoted it by hijacking the #ToastToFarmers hashtag.
The day prior to Hattersley’s visit to Iowa, Busch Beer posted a tweet declaring that every retweet would mean a $5 donation to Farm Rescue, which helps family farms and ranches weather crises like a major injury, illness or natural disaster.
The tweet received approximately 41,000 retweets, meaning Anheuser-Busch will donate around $205,000 to the organization.
The brand also deployed the Busch Guy – recognizable from his appearances around the Alamo Bowl in December – to North Dakota to appear at meet-and-greet style events at bars, similar to Hattersley’s tour.
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Anheuser-Busch also quickly established a Toast to Farmers URL that redirects to Busch’s website to further push their claim over the hashtag. Actor Josh Duhamel, a North Dakota native and former quarterback for Minot State University, posted the hashtag in support of Busch and Farm Rescue.
Anheuser-Busch sells the most beer in Iowa with a 57 percent market share, according to Beer Marketer's Insights Executive Editor Eric Shepard. MillerCoors is a distant second with 26.4 percent.
Ten percent of the market belongs to smaller companies consisting mostly of craft beer producers. The amount of craft beer sold in Iowa grew by 11 percent from 2017-2018.
A report from 24/7 Wall Street published in October labeled Bud Light as the most popular beer in the nation, owning a 15.4 percent market share, while Coors Light took second place at 7.7 percent. Busch Light ranked the 9th most popular beer in the nation with 3 percent of the market share.
Follow Aaron Calvin on Twitter @aaronpcalvin.