Despite millions of dollars in television advertising, beer sales have gone flat in recent years. Meanwhile, market share for both spirits and wine has crept up. Bob Lachky, executive vice president for global industry development at Anheuser-Busch, is trying to organize the Beer Institute and other brewers into a media campaign to fight back. He tells Bob that beer relies too much on one message, and too much on the small screen.
BOB GARFIELD:: It is the weekend after Thanksgiving, which means turkey sandwiches, football games - and beer commercials. You know, talking lizards, fraternity hijinks, bikini-clad babes. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
MAN:: Very nice.
MAN:: Do you think they're - [OVERTALK]
WOMAN:: Oh, yeah. They're plastic. And they're spectacular.
MAN:: Just in time for summer? It's the Coors Light cooler box, eighteen 16-ounce plastic bottles that stay cool all - [SOUND FADES OUT]
BOB GARFIELD:: The beer industry has poured millions into such ads for decades while the liquor industry eschewed television for nearly 50 years under a voluntary ban, even now limiting itself to local TV and cable. Mostly, hard alcohol marketers concentrate their efforts at the point of sale, in retail stores and bars, positioning their products as more sophisticated alternatives to beer. It seems at long last to be working. Market share is up for both spirits and wine, while beer has been taking a hit in recent years. Bob Lachky is executive vice-president for global industry development at Anheuser-Busch. He's trying to organize other brewers into a joint media campaign to fight back. Beer, he says, relies too much on one message and too much on the small screen. He joins me now. Bob, welcome to the show.
BOB LACHKY:: Well, great to be here, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD:: Let's start with, how nervous is your industry about this loss of market share?
BOB LACHKY:: Bob, this all has to be put in perspective. I think the media has made much more of a case of the death of beer, so to speak, than really, I think, is really the case. For example, if you think about the percentage of overall alcohol beverage consumption, it is about 60 percent for beer and about 28 percent for hard liquor, 14 percent for wine. I mean, that's hardly cause for panic. But I think if you look at the last couple of years, beer is coming off its all-time peak. Then I think it kind of hit everybody all at once that we need to do something.
BOB GARFIELD:: The industry is considering a multimedia campaign to put the best face on beer. Tell me what you're considering and how it's progressing.
BOB LACHKY:: The whole mission here is to elevate and enhance the image of beer. And the way we're going to do it is try to get all the brewers aligned and all the constituents that really have a stake in the beer industry, from the distributor on the ground to the retailer to the brewers, to kind of agree on message points and platforms that we could then take to everybody to share - speeches, talking points, sell sheets to retailers -and as you go up the pyramid, giving them a chance to print templates out, so they get coasters and table tents and menu cards and suggestions on how to pair beer with food. And as you go further up the pyramid, you know, think about actual media pieces, print ads that would maybe highlight some of the benefits, and at the ultimate top, at the capstone, perhaps occasional television advertising to spark some discussion and spark some publicity, quite frankly, that, wow, look at this contentious beer industry working together.
BOB GARFIELD:: So we're talking about something like "Got beer?" "Beer, it's what's for dinner?" Is that the kind of advertising we can expect?
BOB LACHKY:: We have studied case histories for other industries, the milk model, the cheese model, the cotton model, the beef model, everything out there, and we're trying to pick and learn from all of them. Just think about it. I mean, if you come out with an advertising platform for even a week around, let's say, Super Bowl or the Olympics, and it has a beer industry message, a united message from America's brewers that talks about some of the most basic things that I think a lot of brewers have lost sight of, you know, the social value of beer, the whole notion of romancing the product, that in itself will be worth twenty-fold in terms of publicity.
BOB GARFIELD:: Now, someone has said - it was either you or your competitor over at Miller Brewing - that one of the problems that beer is having with a younger audience is that it's deemed by an increasing number of people as less sophisticated than wine and distilled spirits, and fundamentally you have to address this sophistication problem.
BOB LACHKY:: You know, you think about "Great taste, less filling." You think about "I love you, man." You think about "Wassup," the lizards, all the incredible campaigns that have been done. It didn't just occur that in the last 12 months all that's been a mistake. If anything, the beer industry can be criticized for taking their eye off of a demographic that was moving away. I mean, the demographic wanted variety. Was the beer industry giving it to them? Not even in packaging were we giving it to them.
BOB GARFIELD:: But your opposite number at Miller said that we have marketed ourselves into this problem and we can market ourselves out of it. Was he not talking about the adolescent sensibilities that have informed beer advertising for so long?
BOB LACHKY:: I think that there have been some definitely questionable [CHUCKLES] executions of which, you know, I've been the architect of some of them. I can admit it.
BOB GARFIELD:: [LAUGHS]
BOB LACHKY:: But we've also been the architect of - [OVERTALK]
BOB GARFIELD:: That's just to point out the igniting a horse fart being right at the top of the list. On the Super Bowl. [BOTH AT ONCE]
BOB LACHKY:: Well, I wouldn't say that. Yeah. [LAUGHTER] But I think we've also [CHUCKLES] had some pretty memorable work, too, with Clydesdales, and we've done some incredible stuff over the years with Louie the Lizard. And I will agree with you that the image has probably not touched on the themes that I wish we could touch on more often - you know, clever work that doesn't need to run the route of ribald or gross - but to say that that's the only issue and you can market your way out is absolutely short-sighted. Remember, you've conditioned your distributor to just deliver the product, stack it and then led them to believe that if you win the Super Bowl, all is well with your television advertising. And that is not good. We need to get out and sell one-on-one, because there's whole new generations of beer drinkers, potential beer drinkers coming into the marketplace every year.
BOB GARFIELD:: Bob, thank you very much.
BOB LACHKY:: Thanks a lot.
BOB GARFIELD:: Robert Lachky is the executive vice-president of global industry development for Anheuser-Busch. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:: Coming up, last year's Orange Revolution seen from the inside out, and a beat reporter's thankless Thanksgiving.
BOB GARFIELD:: This is On the Media from NPR. (FUNDING CREDITS)
BROOKE GLADSTONE:: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.