It’s difficult to taste the difference between Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite. Not to mention the other slight variations on those beers. So, right off the bat, the mainstream beer market has several big players with almost no product variation. The only product variation in the mainstream beer market is the bottle and can. Barring the introduction of a new type of beer, the scarce informational beer advertisement is usually about a new bottle. The rest is persuasive.
The goal of beer advertising is not to add more drinkers to the market. The number of people who drink beer in total tends not to be ad elastic, and in fact doesn’t change much at all; so the big firms fight to redistribute shares of the market.
For example: the Miller Lite vortex glass bottle, which was advertised as creating an easier pour. Miller Lite, Coors Light and Bud Light all advertised its aluminum bottles with screw tops. Bud Light recently designed different can artwork for every NFL team.
The reason, again, is product similarity. When the product is the same (maybe a few calories more or less), advertising, including packaging, becomes a serious part of the interactions between beer giants. According to market research firm Statista, Anheuser-Busch InBev spent $539 million on ads in 2014. MillerCoors spent the second-most, at $417 million.
The ads are almost exclusively persuasive. They focus on groups of people socializing, often out of the house. The marketers want consumers to associate being part of a group with drinking their light beer.
Beer is a low-risk purchase, meaning the consumer knows more or less what they will get when they open the bottle or can. Until you get to the craft beer segment, which I will ignore for this post, drinkers of mainstream beers will not investigate the qualities of light beers – for example, Coors Light versus Miller Lite. Consumers rely more heavily on the attitude surrounding a beer brand instead of the beer itself because the taste is almost indistinguishable. That’s why humor and fun are used more than information.
So, we should take a look at some examples:
Bud Light advertises the night life. Going out with friends, not knowing what awesome thing you might do together, and knowing you’re safe with Bud Light. It’s all about comfort with the product. Beer drinkers already know what Bud Light tastes like. But when they plan to be with a group of people, Anheuser-Busch marketers want beer drinkers to think, no matter what, Bud Light is a safe and familiar choice.
Coors Light might trick the occasional viewer into thinking its advertisements are informative; but I struggle to believe “coldness” is an informational quality of the beer. Coors will set a lot of its advertisements at bars and in cold places. During football season, Coors joins Miller and Bud in deploying NFL-related advertisements. The prisoner’s dilemma comes in here: If only one firm advertises to the football crowd (men who are group-oriented and generally more susceptible to the fear of missing out), the other firms lose significant market share. If they all advertise to this market segment, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors split a small gain in total profit.
Miller Lite gets closest to informational advertising with a focus on triple hop brewing. It advertises a light beer with few calories, and emphasizes the actual product in its ads, especially in print. On television, you see a mixture of product-focused ads and “Miller Time” ads, which play on the same theme as Bud and Coors – young men socializing with a group of friends.