Budweiser’s America might be more unifying than exclusionary

Most of the beer-watching world collectively rolled its eyes when AB-InBev announced that Budweiser would be renamed “America” through until the election, and it was hard to disagree with the impulse given its premise that, “we are embarking on what should be the most patriotic summer that this generation has ever seen.”

This piece by Vinson Cunningham on the New Yorker encapsulates the tiredness and cynicism of the re-branding, noting,

The America evoked by the can is an America that I recognize—one that exists only in advertisements. You find it in commercials for pickup trucks and lawnmowers, jeans and mass-produced beer. What happens here, in this warmly lit, perfectly cast version of the States, is this: a towheaded boy with angles for ribs runs down to the edge of a dock, takes flight, and folds himself into a ball before he breaks the glinting surface of a lake. Or this: a dad in sky-blue Wranglers and a T-shirt smiles through a toss or two of a football, then grabs his son lovingly by the arms and swings him in tilting circles; when he’s done, maybe he gives the kid a noogie. Or this abstract arrangement unfurls: a guy in a cowboy hat jumps out of the high-set bed of a burly truck and directly onto the back of a horse. Everybody’s on a suburban lawn, or passing through the desert, or traipsing through a field of wheat, or somewhere on a safe-looking acre or so of woods. (Safety is much of what holds this shot-on-location country together.) In any case, the city almost never figures in. Somebody’s singing, “This is ouuurrrr country,” and it’s unclear—but, in another way, stupidly apparent—to whom the first-person plural is supposed to refer, and what, exactly, they can be said to possess. The whole thing’s narrated by a man with a carburetor for a voice.

But, but, but: I was watching the Mexico vs. Chile warm-up game last week for the Copa America Centenario on Univision, and this commercial came on.

This is the Spanish-language version of the same spot that seems to have been airing the last couple weeks or so. It’s a very striking commercial to watch in Spanish, because while everyone’s been panning the “America” name change and what is perceived as pandering to lowest-common-denominator patriotism, this version of it is targeting the demographic of the US who have Spanish as their first language. The effect, then, is remarkably inclusive–by airing the commercial in Spanish, it almost seems to communicate a sense of welcoming and inclusion–that those folks whose first language is Spanish are just as much a part of America as anyone else. I don’t think that’s coincidence either, given the prominently featured African-looking woman pledging allegiance at 0:10, and the lucha libre mask-wearing guy who shows up at 0:14 and 0:23.

This invokes a very different vision of America than the idyllic small-town scenes described by Cunningham, and the fact that this vision comes from Budweiser of all companies is somewhat ironic. Inasmuch as craft breweries have tried to cast themselves as foils to the Beer Voltrons of industrial brewers, tribalism is alive and well among its appreciators, and few seem to be making deliberate and focused attempts to market their product and “commnunity,” if you will, to segments like Latinos.

Political scientists have been pointing out that Latinos represent the fastest growing subgroups of the electorate in the US, and it seems disappointing that the beer entities doing the most to reach those groups in the beer world are AB-InBev. I live in San Diego, but I honestly can’t think of any beer marketing among the many non-massive brewers here that goes beyond novelty. I’m thinking of Stone’s Xocoveza (brewed in collaboration with Tijuana’s Insurgente) or Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez, which invoke a certain aesthetic, but aren’t actively seeking out or educating consumers in Spanish-speaking communities. It seems to be a blind spot. (Although to be fair, the extent to which I regularly involve myself in Latino communities is pretty much limited to doing my weekly produce shopping at Pancho Villa Farmers Market.)

To boot, there’s the Bud Light ads proclaiming that “Bud Light proudly supports everyone’s right to marry whoever they want!” Clearly Budweiser’s decided that their future customers are millennials and embracing their values will more likely bring them in. Call it a cynical play at new consumers or not, but the signaling involved in all of this is pretty substantial.

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