Craft Brews Beat Budweiser

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Budweiser has been beating up on it's little micro-brew brothers lately. But in a battle of macro v craft-brew attack ads, craft brews can beat Budweiser.

Budweiser-King of Beers. And king of the $100,000-a-second Super Bowl spot. Complete with costly frogs, lizards, ants, Clydesdales.

In its controversial 2015 Super Bowl spot, Budweiser didn't hire any cute animals. Instead it started a beef-still ongoing-with craft brews. "Brewed the Hard Way" claims Bud is "proudly a macro brew" and isn't "brewed to be fussed over" and is "brewed for drinking not dissecting." It ends with a parting shot: "Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale. We'll be brewing us some golden suds."

Controversy ensued. And culminated with a microbrewery from Eugene, Oregon called Ninkasi-named after the Sumerian goddess of beer-responding to Bud's ad with their own. "Brewed the Easy Way?" claims Ninkasi is "proudly a craft brewery" and that "some beers are worth a little fuss" and that "you can dissect our beers and you can drink them too." It ends with its own parting shot: "You can enjoy your golden suds. Pass us a pumpkin ale. Craft is the future of beer."

Controversy continues. Who's winning? The Goliath of the story, Bud-shipping 13 million barrels in 2013 and with a virtually limitless advertising budget? Or the David of the story, craft breweries like Ninkasi-which shipped just 86,000 barrels in that same year and with just a slingshot and few stones to shoot at the giant?

We're a data science firm in Washington, DC-and we're damn good at picking winners in a pissing match using the scientific method. We conducted a clinical message trial in Wisconsin-a state that loves to both make and drink beer-to figure out whether Bud's or Ninkasi's ad worked better, worse, or at all.

Ninkasi wins-but other craft breweries don't. Bud loses-and the macro brew bystander, Miller, gets hammered.

We randomly chose Wisconsinites in our sample (more than 2,100 total respondents) to see either Bud's "Brewed the Easy Way," Ninkasi's "Brewed the Easy Way?," or an unrelated placebo ad by Samsung called "It's Not a Phone, It's a Galaxy: Wireless Charging." And then we asked respondents to spend $40 among four beer brands in survey: Budweiser, Miller, Ninkasi, and Dogfish Head.

Did seeing a particular ad change how allocate their budget among these beer brands? Yes.

* Samsung (Placebo) Ad. Wisconsinites who saw Samsung's "It's Not a Phone, It's a Galaxy: Wireless Charging" ad spent $9.15 on Budweiser, $14.16 on Miller, $4.84 on Ninkasi, and $11.94 on Dogfish Head.

* Budweiser Ad. Wisconsinites who saw Bud's "Brewed the Hard Way" don't spend their $40 budget any differently-in a statistically significant way-compared to those seeing Samsung's ad.

* Ninkasi Ad. Wisconsinites who saw Ninkasi's "Brewed the Easy Way?" do spend their $40 budget differently-in a highly statistically significant way-compared to those seeing Samsung's ad. These respondents spend $1.21 less on Budweiser and $1.89 less on Miller. At the same time, they spend $3.19 more on Ninkasi and spend about the same statistically-speaking on Dogfish Head.

So Ninkasi steals $3 in spending from the macro brews with its "Brewed the Easy Way?" ad-taking $1 Bud and $2 from Miller. But Bud doesn't do anything to spending with its "Brewed the Hard Way" ad. And poor Miller-it's punished a lot more than Bud, even though it's a macro brew on the sidelines.

And what does all this mean at Super Bowl scale?

The average cost of a 30-second spot at Super Bowl XLIX where Bud's ad aired in 2015 was about $4.5 million-and say conservatively their 60-second spot cost them at least $9 million. Our results suggest that Bud's ad didn't change spending at all.

So Bud went $9 million in the hole from airing the ad. Maybe they should stick with horses-and amphibians and even bugs.
And what if Ninkasi had the $9 million to blow?

There average audience at Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 was a record-breaking 114 million viewers-and say for fun that just 10% of them spend just $40 on beer. Our results suggest that Ninkasi's ad takes $3 away of that budget Bud and Miller, $1 and $2 apiece, respectively.

Ninkasi would have made an extra $34.2 million in sales from airing at a cost of $11.4 million in sales to Bud and $22.8 to Miller. Poor Miller.

So the big brand looks maxed out on ad impacts. And the little guys have a lot of upside - if they can just find an ad budget.


Adam B. Schaeffer, Ph.D., and Alexander J. Olver, M.A., are cofounders of ES Partners, a clinical data science firm.  

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