There’s an old axiom in politics, “When you are explaining, you are losing.” (*My wife says the same thing to me during an argument.)
Think about an instance where you’ve heard a politician try to defend themselves against an outrageous attack — by repeating the attack, and thus, further branding the accusation in the brains of the voters.
Does it always work? No. But it works enough to do it.
That’s why the marketing team behind Bud Light’s brilliantly deployed negative attack campaign on Coors Light and Miller Lite will go down as legendary.
Let’s dig in because this issue is fire hot!
Earlier this year, Bud Light made a major advertising move — targeting Coors Light and Miller Lite for using corn syrup in their brewing process (Bud Light uses rice instead of corn syrup). It’s estimated that Bud Light spent close to $50 million on the “negative” ad campaign — including $13 million during the Super Bowl.
Why? The corn industry is under a major threat and has received a ton of bad press from health advocates and the anti-sugar lobby. (True story: When my wife saw the Bud Light Super Bowl “corn syrup” ad — she looked at me and said, “I’m done drinking Miller Lite.”)
But that’s just the beginning!
MillerCoors, the parent company to Coors Light and Miller Lite, knew they couldn’t take this lying down, so they immediately filed a lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch (Bud Light’s parent company) to halt the ads.
And this created a shit-storm of epic proportions…
During the lawsuit process, Bud Light even came under fire from the National Corn Growers Association — who put out press releases of indignation to defend MillerCoors on behalf of their corn producing members.
A judge ruled last month in favor of MillerCoors and temporarily ordered Anheuser-Busch to stop using certain words affiliated with making beer with “corn syrup” in their ads.
Some might view this as a PR nightmare for Bud Light — a lawsuit, a mixed bag of good and bad press, a competitor and its allies screaming at them — but they thought like an outlier and embraced the entire affair.
And this is when Bud Light did something outrageously smart…
They claimed victory with the lawsuit because they were allowed to keep their Super Bowl “corn-syrup” ad running — and as long as they parsed certain words, they could keep marketing the attack ads.
What’s rare and very impressive is that Bud Light embraced the fallout by ignoring the “I’m offended by everything” mob (who make a lot of noise but represent very few agitated consumers). They didn’t run away scared and even slow-rolled taking down the “corn syrup” ads the judge ordered to be removed. Hey, it takes a few weeks to remove a billboard ad, for crying out loud! Ha!!!
Why is this a good thing you ask?
Because it’s another bite of the apple in branding Miller Lite and Coors Light as a beer full of unhealthy corn syrup (which of course isn’t exactly right but branding them inferior is the goal).
Hell, when I googled “miller light corn syrup ad” earlier this week, a paid Google-Ad appeared on the top of the search results with this:
“Bud Light® | Brewed with No Corn Syrup | Hops. Barley. Water. Rice”
Bud Light’s marketing outcome for the search ad?
Diminish Coors Light and Miller Lite’s reputation by continuing to negatively reinforce its message to curious consumers who googled the story…so damn smart.
BTW, a side note, but is a political marketing agency behind this ad campaign? It sure feels familiar to me…but I digress.
Finally, there is one more thing that propels Bud Light forward during this campaign…
Those money-grubbing digital and traditional media complex members exploiting this conflict full-tilt, just so they can get more clicks and views!
By my estimate, it played into the millions of dollars in additional free publicity for Bud Light.
Here’s the key — this was not a 100% grand slam for Bud Light. But that wasn’t their goal. The goal is to gain market share and weaken the Coors Light and Miller Lite brands.
Remember, when you are explaining, you are losing…and no doubt, Coors Light and Miller Lite lost this round in the fight.
Here’s what you can learn about this story:
- Whether in politics or business, comparison ads work. If done properly and with the aim of minimizing offensiveness, they will work far better than positive ads…every.single.damn.time.
- Don’t believe me? Read my company’s recent case study on our client’s “negative ad” campaign that produced insanely better results than the top performing “positive” ad we tested it against.
- The media is DYING to report on conflict. This is FREE! Take advantage of it.
P.S. — Do you know of anyone that is looking to push their business to the next level? To drive more conversions? Many of you have taken or are familiar with my company’s Free 5-Minute Marketing Audit and the results it can produce, so if you know a business owner that will benefit from it, send them here.
P.P.S. — What started as a friendship quickly turned into a business partnership and a booming real estate investment empire for Jake Stenziano and Gino Barbaro. I joined them to discuss what true brand authenticity is and the secret behind Chick-fil-A’s legendary success. Check it out here on their Wheelbarrow Profits podcast.