Anheuser-Busch InBev is introducing a new beer, Bud Light Platinum, and they’re doing it in grand style by buying a pair of 30-second spots during the first quarter of the Super Bowl, a marketing strategy that is certainly setting the company back several million dollars.
What’s so special about the latest member of the Budweiser family, which debuted Jan. 30 in cobalt blue bottles? At 6 percent alcohol by volume, Bud Light Platinum is more potent than the average American brew. (Bud Light measures only 4.2 percent, regular Bud 5 percent.) Popping the cap, you get a slightly sulfurous aroma, but otherwise the beer is quite inoffensive, with a grainy sweetness and a little more aftertaste than you’d expect in a light beer. Like most mainstream lagers, it’s over-carbonated, so you might feel a bit bloated if you suck it directly from the bottle.
What’s more intriguing is: Who is Anheuser-Busch targeting with this new line extension?
Craft beer drinkers? A light lager would seem to hold little appeal for a new generation weaned on bourbon-barrel-aged brews, Belgian-style sour ales and imperial stouts.
Weight watchers? Bud Light Platinum contains 137 calories, almost as much as the 145 calories you’d ingest by downing a can of regular Budweiser.
People who don’t really like the taste of beer but want a cheap alcohol-delivery system? You can buy a six-pack of ordinary Bud Light, with even less flavor, for about $1.50 less.
Citing the higher alcohol and unusual cobalt blue bottle, industry analyst David “Bump” Williams has speculated that Anheuser-Busch might try to be luring back drinkers who deserted beer for spirits over the last couple years. But he’s skeptical about the new release.
“Bud Light with 6 percent alcohol by volume and a sweet taste is an oxymoron in my mind,” Williams noted. “It’s not drinkable, and it’s certainly not going to attract spirits shoppers over to beer as planned. Its taste is not for Bud Light drinkers, so I’m expecting a lot of product on the shelves with very little repeat purchases at the super-premium price point. It’s better than Bud Light Golden Wheat, but that’s a very low base.”
In its third-quarter earnings report, Anheuser-Busch refers to the beer as “a trendy blue-bottle line extension that appeals to a key group of beer drinkers and expands consumer occasions,” although it doesn’t specify what those beer drinkers or occasions are.
The Bud Light Platinum Web site modestly proclaims that the product “has reinvented the category of light beer” and talks about the brand being “triple filtered,” which might be a rejoinder to Miller Lite’s equally meaningless claim of being “triple hopped.”
One would think that Anheuser-Busch’s executives could read the writing on the wall. Craft beer accounts for a little more than 5 percent of the market, but it’s growing at a double-digit pace, while the mainstream beer market is contracting. (Anheuser-Busch’s beer shipments in 2011 fell by 2.9 percent, as the company failed to reach the 100-million-barrel mark for the first time in a decade.)
Anheuser-Busch could have sent a bold message by devoting one of its Super Bowl ads to another new product, its Shock Top Wheat IPA, which is dry-hopped with Magnum and Cascade hops and leavened with malted wheat for a little more lightness and drinkability. The IPA, with 5.8 percent alcohol by volume, is set to hit shelves on March 19.
But the bigger the company, it seems, the greater the fear of real innovation, and that’s why this Super Bowl Sunday we’re getting the same old, same old in a blue bottle.
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