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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bitte ein Bit

This article in the Wall Street Journal is interesting... at least to a guy that lived in Germany and grew fond of their many local breweries. It also shows that the folks at Anheuser-Busch were a little slow in figuring out there was going to be a problem with the World Cup this year. I would think that these guys are brighter than this, but perhaps the Bud in the drinking fountains is getting to them.

At World Cup, Bud
Shows Fancy Footwork
To Defuse a Brouhaha
Anheuser Lets German Fans
Drink a Local Brew;
Don't Call It 'Budweiser'
April 22, 2006; Page A1

Selling cold beer to hot, thirsty soccer fans in Germany should be easy. Not for Budweiser.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. has exclusive rights to sell and market its beer at soccer's World Cup, which will be held in cities around Germany for a month beginning June 9.

Being the official beer sponsor of the world's most-watched sporting event should give the company an ideal chance to promote its brand and to associate itself with the one thing Germans love almost as much as beer, soccer.

But the King of Beers has a king-size problem: Germans hate the beer and Anheuser-Busch can't even use the Budweiser name in Germany. In a country where brews are hand-crafted and richly flavored, many drinkers dismiss Bud as light, mass-produced and weak.

"We don't want Bud at our World Cup," says Johannes Schnitter, a 25-year-old student at the Freie Universit├Ąt in Berlin, who has set up an anti-Bud Web site, "I'm not anti-American. This is just the worst beer you could imagine."
Even the name Bud is out because one of Germany's most popular beers, Bitburger, is called Bit and German courts have ruled that "Bud" is too close to "Bit." As a result, the American company is forced to sell its beer in Germany under the awkward name Anheuser Busch Bud.

Anheuser-Busch has been a sponsor of the World Cup since 1986. And it didn't expect to find itself in this bind when it paid an estimated $80 million in 1998 for exclusive alcohol rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cup tournaments. Germany wasn't selected as host country until 2000.

Anheuser-Busch executives in St. Louis, Mo., realized they had a problem in late 2004.
German newspapers were reporting that beer fans were furious about the prospect of drinking the American brew at the tournament.

If Anheuser-Busch insisted on enforcing its exclusivity, it was clear it would annoy some Germans who wanted to drink German beer and generate bad publicity for the company. Executives decided it was more important to get the Bud brand in front of fans world-wide than to make Germans drink their beer.
So Anheuser officials undertook an unprecedented act of beer diplomacy. Tony Ponturo, Anheuser-Busch vice president of global media and sports marketing and the executive who signed the World Cup sponsorship deal, flew to Bitburger's offices in the small town of Bitburg to discuss a deal.

He proposed letting Bitburger sell its beer along with Bud at the stadiums and at some promotional events. In return, the American company would gain the right to use the name Bud, instead of just Anheuser-Busch, on billboards along the fields -- and visible to viewers watching on TV at home.

Bitburger said yes. "For us, this is a way to make the brand Bitburger more popular," says Dietmar Henle, a spokesman for Bitburger Brauerei Th. Simon GmbH, the brewer.

"We could be bullies," Mr. Ponturo says. "But that's probably not smart."

Bitburger will probably out-sell A-B at the events. It's a quite tasty pilsner and while the same color as a Bud, it's much drier.

The fact that the A-B execs didn't realize they would have a problem for four years is disturbing. If I were the master brewer or a marketing guru for A-B, when Germany was announced as the site for the 2006 World Cup, I would've immediately begun brewing a new beer to launch at the event (or shortly beforehand), one that would be appreciated by the European fans and might increase my marketshare of the fragmented German beer market. Not just putting some stupid World Cup packaging on the same old Budweiser, which can't be called Budweiser and which doesn't have any success in the market.

But, hey.... I'm not a high paid marketing exec - what do I know? All I know is that if I were going to be at the World Cup and had the same choice, I'd be saying: Bitte ein Bit!

and I can't blame the Germans for doing the same.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler