Friday, October 16, 2015

Is sophomoric advertising responsible for the decline of light beer sales?

Light beer sales have been falling since 2007.  And, Bud Light has gone through five ad agencies in five years in an effort to stop the decline.  But were they responsible for it in the first place?

Beer execs have long favored funny advertising for their products because drinking beer is fun.  That makes sense to me.  But when does humor go too far and begin to damage perceptions?  Over the years, the humor in beer ads has become increasingly sophomoric featuring talking dogs and fighting squirrels. 

Marty Stock, CEO of Cavalry, a former Coors Light agency, speculates that these ads went too far and have turned light beer into a punch line in the craft beer age.  Interesting. (Mickle, 2015)

What do you think?  Did these ads damage the perception of the category, and open the way to the surge in craft beers?  Or is it simply that Millennials prefer craft beers for other reasons?  Do you think the right campaign can persuade people to drink light beers again, or is it too late?

Mickle, T. (2015, October 12)  Can Advertising Revive Light Beer?  Wall Street Journal, p B1 &2.  Retrieved October 16, 2015, from


  1. I’m not a beer or alcohol connoisseur so my initial thought was because of the cheap taste of light beers and people wanting better quality. Also, the cheesy commercials really didn’t help their image. How many times are we going to see another animal trying to convince humans to drink beer? Nonetheless, when I do have an occasional drink, and if it’s beer, I’ll go for a quality beer (prefer red or darker beers) because the cheap stuff just doesn’t taste good.

    I did a search on light beer to read about what is causing the drop in sales. Industry insiders speculate it’s caused by several factors – beer prices have gone up, liquor is a cheaper alternative, and over testing done by marketing companies. The former A-B InBev Chief Creative Officer, Bob Lachky, who was behind the infamous “Wassup?!” ad blames over testing. He said, “It’s almost impossible to get a breakthrough idea through a system that may be overanalyzing in the pre-test stage.

    Whether it’s a taste issue, price, or being turned off by current ads, I do agree that these sophomoric ads do more harm than good. People have become very serious about their food and drinks. Some people can’t even start eating without taking a pic to share with their friends. It’s art! You even have shows centered around drinking, such as Three Sheets (not sure if this show is still around), Booze Traveler, Drink up (Cooking Channel), and now bartenders are known as mixologists. It has become an actual art form. So, I guess they are taking alcohol very seriously and commercials with little animals and cheesy themes are simply not working. Do I think it’s too late for them? No. I think they still have an opportunity especially among weight and health conscious drinkers (um, why drink then?). Perhaps they should focus on the taste with fewer calories and have a mature theme instead of the typical frat type of atmosphere. I think Millennials have sophisticated taste compared to when their parents were growing up and they want quality over quantity. I read Millennials are buying non-alcoholic drinks, which may cost up to $50 per drink! I can’t imagine spending $50 on a non-alcoholic drink, but clearly there is a market for it.


  2. I think that light beers have a strong personality disadvantage, many years ago we considered light beer as one without flavor and less tasty than regular ones. When the craft beers came out to my local market the light beers sales came down suddenly.

    The ads shown us how a light beer turned from the profile “man drinking in a bar” to “a kiddy drink” The ads changed “the ancient art of making, tasting and drinking beer” into a common activity, now the light beers companies realize that humor, also being sophomoric, is a double-edged sword and this case is the evidence of that.

    Milennials have specific likes for hand-made or processes that craft beers can satisfy easily, finally, I think that light beers need to change their niches and step over with a new vision of what a “light beer” is to change this trend

  3. As a millennial myself, I have witnessed the competition of light beer versus craft beer. Many of my peers claim light beer is cheap , has a strong flavor and is usually consumed by college students because we can't afford better. On the other hand I've been told craft beer is delicate, has a variety of flavors and when advertised it is advertised to emphasize the hard work & amazing flavor that goes into the product.
    While craft beer has been considered the prestigious beers even in marketing, light beers have become the joke in advertisement, hence its dropping in sales.

    Personally, I feel the sophomoric ads many of these companies use do go a little too far when "featuring talking dogs and fighting squirrels" because it takes away from the quality of the product. While there are exceptions to have sophomoric advertisement for example, Super Bowl, those ads shouldn't be its primary advertising approach. Viewers may think it's funny but are we just laughing and not purchasing or consuming?

    Also I don't feel that ads for beer should be too serious but they should provide benefits or any information of the product. For example, I know what's in Samuel Adams beer because in the commercials they show the brewery and show the team providing comfort and quality to the consumer, I can't say the same for Bud Light.

    The childish manner of Light beer commercials have definitely caused more harm than good for their companies because while drinking is a fun, leisure activity you can't connect with many consumers when showing a talking dog rather than the actual team working in the brewery. Imagine watching a jewelry commercial and seeing animals talking about the products while another jewelry commercial shows the company and credits the team behind the work, 9 times out of 10 most people will go with the creditable company because we like to be assured of an amazing product.

    I feel these companies need to reconsider the way they are targeting their consumers and if that is done they could possible make light beers a successful product again.

  4. I am not a beer drinker but most boyfriends and other guys I know do and don’t like light beers. They see light beer as equivalent to diet soda. We all know from our class discussion that diet soda was a challenge to market to men. Because as we all found out, men “keeps in shape” not “diet”. From that piece of information I believe that the same problem that eluded diet sodas are now eluding light beers. As perception goes, drinking beer is more associate to men than (older) women. So I guess the perception of drinking light beer is not consider too manly and thus are not being consumed by most men. Having said that, the sophomoric ads featuring talking dogs and fighting squirrels don’t help either – it may look too silly and childish to most men. Added reason to the decline of sales for light beer is the emergence and the popularity of craft beers. Although Millennials are the consumer of light beer mainly for its taste and price, more and more are now developing a more sophisticated taste for a better beer and are exploring and switching to craft beers.

    I don’t think it’s too late to persuade people to drink light beers again with the right campaign. They need to change their target market to younger college students
    (21-25) and emphasize that it is cheaper. Also they should target to women who drink diet sodas and emphasize that it is lower in calories than regular beer and cocktails.

    Girlie E. Gaviola

  5. I do not think the humorous and sophomoric ads targeting light beer damages the perception of light beer. I think light beer already has a stigma of being cheap. From my experience the only time I or my friends buy light beer is to play drinking games such as flip cup or beer pong. The only other people I know who buy light beer are baby boomers who have been drinking the same light beer for years and won’t change their taste.
    I think the appeal of craft beer for Millennials is the exclusivity of the beer and the various strengths and flavors. I don’t believe it has anything to do with the marketing of light beer. It would be difficult to converts these craft beer drinkers to a light beer. I think the only marketing that can be done to persuade Millennials to drink light beer is to target those in colleges or universities. It’s cheaper and they get the humor.

  6. I agree with taking another look at the specific target groups for light beer. I think advertising for this product should be more niche and show that they know which consumer they sell to. When I see the ads now, it just seems to be they try to be funny and reach as many people as possible while this strategy obviously doesn’t work for them. I think female college students between 21 and 25 are definitely an interesting target; they party, they drink and although it’s common to gain a bit of extra weight over these first few years of college, nobody wants it. I don’t know how it is in the US but where I am from, women drink beer just like the men, especially the young women. So I do think that can be an interesting and more narrow group for them to target on - how great if you can have the feeling like you’re watching your weight while drinking beer and having fun?

    I also believe that there is a lot of negative publicity around light products; that’s why I would like to see light ads which show more heritage and origin so you actually get a feeling with where the product and ingredients are from and that it’s not bad for you.. this could be an interesting insight when focussing more on young women for light beer.

    - Lucette

  7. I believe the slacking light beer sales are geographically and demographically based. Millennial’s like unfamiliarity and progression of sorts from the norm, but Baby Boomers and the older populace will probably stick with a sure thing. Craft beer can be appreciated and drank for the sake of tasting, but on the daily basis, people who work in labor positions or watch every sporting event broadcast will probably not, 1. Pay extra for beer and 2. Cannot remain productive or awake while drinking a heavy adult beverage. I believe alcohol volume actually has a play in the light beer industry as well; if you drink 4-6 craft beers you may find yourself in trouble, however, you can drink light beers for a longer period of time and in higher quantity and not feel as bloated or inebriated. I believe it depends on what your goals in life are. Craft beer addresses a specific market of beer drinkers, the artisans, or those who really appreciate labels like handcrafted or quality craft and a full flavor beer. I do think it comes down to people who drink because they enjoy beer or people who enjoy drinking. Bud Light still dominates much of Center USA and the South. The sophomoric ads are indeed male centric and revolve around sports and fart jokes, but they have an established consumer base and I really don't think that will change. I cannot drink Bud Light or variants when I am out in the city or having a test at a new micro pub but if I am outside for sporting events, hunting, working, etc. a Bud Light does the trick, every time. As a millennial, I stand by craft brew for flavor, quality and it is good to know you are supporting someone that is struggling to make a quality product. I also really appreciate the lighter beverage for casual drinking while involved in sports or warm weather outdoor environments.

  8. I, personally, do not drink alcohol but it seems to me that Millennials are more interested in artisanal drinks. I have heard that people my age are tired of consuming what appears to be "cheap" beer (again, no knowledge of alcoholic beverages). The ads may have tinted this generation's perception of beer due to the strong ridicule. People want whats shiny, and this beer does not have that appeal.

    Of course I believe that a new ad can change the perception of Millennials and their beer purchases. I think that with the right spokesperson, maybe a popular athlete, actor, or singer, and the right message in the ads can bring consumers back to purchasing the beer. I also think that the company needs to provide different flavors to spike an interest with consumers as well as stand out from the competitors.

    I will have to agree with Nicole, though. I think that this type of beer can be marketed towards college students since they are pressed for finances and that the humor can be something they can post about on their social media accounts. So it could be that the company needs to shift its target market towards younger consumers.

    -Sweta P.

  9. I think that the decline in light beer sales is not only due to sophomoric advertising and increased interest in "craft" and "artisan" products, but also the recent "whole" movement. It seems that health-conscious young people are no longer expressing their interest in their health with diet foods, but rather whole milk, full-fat yogurt and gluten-filled bread. It is something I have noticed in the past few months where young people are straying from the chemicals, fillers and splenda in favor for the "good stuff."

    That being said, I do not see the sophomoric advertising as totally differentiated from the rest of beer advertising. Whether it is a fighting squirrel or half-naked man playing volleyball on the beach, the ads speak to the humor and interests of young people. With this in mind, it seems as if it is not the advertising - but the product - that is losing the interest of its target audience.

    -Gabrielle Wuhl

  10. I definitely agree with the rest of the comments. I am not a beer drinker myself, but I can imagine that the typical drinkers (men) don't like the taste, don't think it's manly, etc. Also, commercials with talking animals sound more appealing to children's toys or something, than drinks for adults...

    I actually think that it is a little hard in general to sell the "light" version of a product, since it is often associated with something that is not as good. It's often cheaper, lighter, has fewer ingredients, tastes not as great, etc. People that like quality (e.g. Millenials) will therefore not buy light products.

    So, if I actually would drink beer, I believe I would go for the "real" thing and not buy the light version. Although I am very conscious about my health, my body, and what I put in it etc., I still think that it's better to choose real coke over diet coke, a chocolate cake made out of lots of rich chocolate, etc. If you want a treat, do it right then and don't half, if you know what I mean.

  11. The talking dogs and fighting squirrels remark reminded me of what we had discusssed in class regarding the Taco Bell dog and how sales actually fell for Taco Bell when those ads were running. So I do believe the quality/concept of the ads definitely contributed to the shift in public perception of light beer and as a result, decline of light beer sales over the years.

    I think the public perception of light beer right now is that it isn't for serious beer drinkers/beer connoisseurs. It's known as being watery or tasteless, especially when compared to craft beer.

    However, I don't think that public perception can't be changed or that the right campaign couldn't convince at least a certain segment of people to drink/prefer light beer. Another class example that comes to mind is Mountain Dew. Even though soda sales had been decreasing due to the public's shift towards healthier living/eating, Mountain Dew remained profitable because they identified a niche target to market their product to (aka gamers). So perhaps identifying a niche market for light beer can help improve sales. (I think someone who had posted a comment mentioned college students. Identifying activities (ie: beer pong) that light beer would come in useful may be more relevant messaging than talking animals. Or, as others have pointed out, if the light beer companies can better identify their target market, they may be able to drive up their sales by changing perceptions of light beer within that target. I don't know if this is still true, but I remember reading somewhere that 25% of light beer drinkers are actually female and so again, talking dogs and fighting squirrels may not be a good way to reach this target. Perhaps a more insightful message for females would help drive up light beer consumption in this group. For example, (another class example), Old Spice's viral campaign which targeted the women buying soap for men in their homes/families.

    One of my professors pointed out to me that candles have basically no utility (at least in the US where electricity is pretty accessible) yet companies like diptyque can sell them for hundreds of dollars because it's marketed as something romantic or luxurious for your home. So the bottom line is, I think if the advertising and marketing of a product is successful, it can definitely shift public perception/attitudes towards it and then drive sales for that product.

    -Katherine Hung

    -Katherine Hung

  12. I think that everything evolutions, technology, ways that people communicate, advertising, product, how to shop, etc.

    In my opinion, not only Millennials are tired of the same product and averting style but other generations as well. My husband for instance is thinking of how to produce beer himself.

    I do not think that advertising has damaged perception, I believe that the taste of light beer is terrible and no matter what they do in advertising sales will continue to decline specially with new promises such as craft beers that provides a testy product and great story.