I saw a familiar name on the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch yesterday. A name that consumed a big part of my life for six years. I knew at the time this affair would end with me crying in my beer, thinking of all I had put into the relationship. But I knew at the time my love would be unrequited.
That name was Budweiser. The headline said, "Rebuilding Bud bandwagon." Actually the headline had put a positive spin on a rather devastating situation. A telling figure: 4 out of 10 people in their mid-20's have never even tried a Bud. Sorry to say, Budweiser is no longer the King of Beers. Barely a Prince. It fell from its throne some time ago. Actually overthrown by a mob of young drinkers who felt no connection with the brand. Done in by misdirection and myopia. Bud's share of market has declined from 26% in 1988 to just over 9% last year. That's a worse record than Bernie Madoff.
Okay, enough marketing data. I don't like it any more than you do.
Why do I care? I don't drink Bud anymore, don't own AB/InBev stock, my son isn't a beer distributor. I care because I was Creative Director on Bud for 6 years, back when D'Arcy Advertising was a big name in the business, not only in St. Louis but nationally. Today D'Arcy doesn't exist, except in distant echoes and dusty images conjured by aging Mad Men and Women who remember "back when we had fun." And we did.
As I read the article, I felt as though I had just run into an old girl friend. Once she was the stunning, vibrant object of my desire. Now before me stood a stooped, frail woman, chain smoking Camels, her face deeply lined, her arms and neck covered with a swirl of tattoos in an effort to appear young and hip. One of the tattoos said, "Whassup?" Whatever that meant.
"What happened to you?" I said.
"They did it to me,": she replied in a voice that still carried faint promise. "They sacrificed my honor, my soul, to the gods of easy fame and hearty guffaws."
"You poor thing," I said, still unwilling to touch her.
I worked on the Bud brand from 1982 through 1988. Good years. Advertising well thought out and beautifully crafted. Commercials that still move me. Then came The Frogs. I still tremble at the thought of them. Talking Frogs. Lizards named Louie. Even ants carrying a bottle of Bud. Ants!!! Yes, people talked how funny and clever they were. But, like termites, they bored from within.
And that was just the beginning. Throw the desecration of the Clydesdales in there while you're at it. Once they were a symbol of Bud's heritage. Unhitched, they became a circus act frolicking in the snow.
So now AB/InBev thinks it can resurrect Bud in the U.S., bring it back to its former glory, make it "relevant" again. Sure, and Burger Chef will sell hamburgers again and TWA will fly again and my next car will be a Pontiac.