Brewers Association Targets A-B InBev in New Media Offensive

Call it “craft versus crafty part deux.”

In an effort to reignite its 2012 fight with “big beer,” the Brewers Association – a national trade group representing the interests of America’s small and independent brewers – has unveiled a faux crowdfunding campaign that aims to “buy” the world’s largest beer company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, for $213 billion.

The crowdfunding campaign, as well as the $10, $50, $100 and $1,000 pledges aren’t real, but the intent of the media offensive is.

“It’s a tongue-in-cheek campaign about a serious message,” Julia Herz, the BA’s craft beer program director, told Brewbound. “We are trying to bring awareness to the fact that there are a lot of different brewers – big and small – and if you care about supporting small brewery businesses, then you should ‘take craft back.’”

The launch of the “Take Craft Back” campaign was anchored by a 3-minute, Dollar Shave Club-esque video that features an actor – “Andy” – walking through Boulder’s Upslope Brewing Company, asking viewers what comes to mind when they think of “craft beer” and extolling craft breweries’ contribution to society.

“You think of breweries, like this one, reviving old neighborhoods, creating culture, putting people to work, doing something for America, apart from just putting the word on a can,” the actor says, jabbing A-B for its relabeled Budweiser “America” packages.

The actor goes on to claim that “Big Beer’s” craft brewery acquisitions – A-B, MillerCoors, Heineken and Constellation Brands have combined to purchase fewer than 20 craft beer companies since 2011 – will limit consumer choice at “local bars, stores and restaurants.”

“Big beer wants to rob you of the power of choice,” he says.

The video, which the BA created together with its creative agency, The Sterling-Rice Group, also claims that “big beer” is trying to “bleed the passion out of the independent craft brewing culture forever.”

According to Herz, the goal of the new initiative, which can be viewed at, is twofold:

First, the BA hopes to “raise awareness” for more than 5,700 small and independent breweries now competing in a crowded marketplace that organization executives believe is “not as balanced as it should be.”

“As ‘big beer’s’ craft brands continue to grow, some independent brands are having slower growth,” she told Brewbound, blaming decelerating craft sales on companies like A-B InBev and MillerCoors, who can leverage their established distribution networks to earn valuable on- and off-premise retail placements.

“Beer lovers that want to pay attention, and support the businesses behind those purchases, should know that 98 percent of the breweries in the U.S. are small and independent, but they have less than 13 percent market share by volume,” she added.

Second, the BA hopes to draw attention to what it calls an “illusion of choice” while simultaneously promoting its recently introduced independent craft brewer seal.

“As big beer has gotten into the full flavored beer movement, and presented themselves as craft brewers, the illusion of choice is showing,” she said. “There is no denying that the illusion of choice is strong right now, and we don’t want it to become a marketplace reality.”

In response to the launch of the campaign, A-B InBev spokeswoman Gemma Hart sent the following statement to Brewbound.

“We can take a joke,” she wrote. “While the fake money for this campaign ‘piles’ up, we will keep focusing our donations on giving back to communities across our country. We’re proud of the more than 2.8 million cans of emergency drinking water we’ve donated in 2017, with more than two million of those cans going out to Texas, Puerto Rico, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Northern California during the past month alone. As a company, with 18,000 U.S. employees and together with our craft partners, we’ve given more than $13 million to worthy causes this year. That’s a campaign worth celebrating in my book!”

But at least one BA member, who asked not to be named, wrote an unsolicited email to Brewbound criticizing the effort, calling it “embarrassing” and “gimmicky.”

“This sort of campaign is diluting the BA’s initiatives,” the emailer wrote. “Rather than spend time on marketing campaigns like this that pander to the casual small brewer, the BA should spend time on programming that actually educates the community.”

Pabst Hires New CMO, Reshapes Role

Pabst Brewing Company has announced the appointment of a new chief marketing officer to oversee its entire portfolio of heritage, craft, import, cider and flavored malt beverage brands. It’s part of an ongoing executive shakeup.

Matt Bruhn, who most recently served as the CMO for GWA Group Limited, an Australian supplier of building fixtures and fittings, took over as CMO of Pabst in October.

He supplanted former CMO Dan McHugh, who was responsible for marketing the company’s heritage and local legends brands – like Pabst Blue Ribbon, Lone Star and Old Style – and not more “innovative” offerings, like Small Town Brewery’s Not Your Father’s Root Beer, or products produced by the company’s craft and import beer partners.

McHugh had served as Pabst’s CMO since March of 2012, 2 1/2 years before entrepreneur Eugene Kashper teamed up with private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners to purchase the 173-year old company.

Bruhn has experience in the beverage alcohol segment, having previously worked with Diageo Plc. for seven years, eventually rising to become that company’s global brand director for Smirnoff.

The CMO shakeup comes just five months after eight key employees were terminated, including chief growth officer Rich Pascucci, who recently joined Monkey Rum maker Evolution Spirits.

Additionally, at least two other top executives have also departed the company in the last three months. Chief strategy officer Chris Barrow left the organization in July and regional vice president Terry Hopper, who joined Pabst after the company signed a marketing and distribution agreement with Vermont Hard Cider, where he was a VP, resigned earlier in the summer.