How Job Insecurity & Professional Cowardice Made Bud Light Stumble For The First Time Ever.

Ads blamed for Bud Lite sales fall.

A  US Budweiser campaign, “Drinkability”, is being blamed for the first full year sales decline in Bud Lite history. This in a recession when beer sales are often one of few things that go up. A firm of consultants  was  involved. Apparently their recommendations became ad briefs which DDB and Euro anwered by coming up with the “Drinkability” campaign.

Lots of voices are now being heard from all quarters about why this happened and who is at fault.

A Wide Range Of Differing Opinions.

A number of points have been made including:

“Were the spots entertaining? No. Were they loaded with brief-filling, focus group-tested, chest-puffing talking points? Yes.” – Adman blog posting

“Consulting doesn’t boast creative expertise nor does it have any interest in “starting a turf war” with creative agencies.” – A consultancy spokesperson

“…some clients will pay consultants millions to rehash research and refine positioning, but then they pressure agencies to lower costs on the thinking/ideas that positions and builds awareness of a brand and ultimately sell products.” – online comment posting

“Unfortunately, too many people are willing to blindly accept whatever “dictate” trickles down and don’t bother to question the validity of the premise or invest themselves in its integrity. This is a cause for shame in our industry. It opens the door for spectators to broadly crucify agencies and consultants, wastes money, damages brands, and demoralizes everyone involved.” – online comment posting

“Agency creative directors tend to do more damage to brands if left unchecked. They too often develop high concept ads that win awards but do very little to motivate consumers in any way. The examples are endless.” – online comment posting

Others attribute the Bud Lite decline to Anheuser-Busch being bought by InBev.

Then of course there’s the question of whether one can or can’t directly correlate advertising and sales. Well, one can’t have it both ways.

All these points have merit to a greater or lesser degree. However, I think there’s a simpler, deeper issue behind all this.

When you’re scared you tend to make bad decisions.

Let’s face it, those ads are weak. The consultant-driven briefs that Budweiser Marketing pushed on DDB and Euro should have been declined immediately for what they clearly were: weak, lacking compelling beer consumer insights and likely to generate poor advertising harmful to Bud Lite in the competitive context.

Next, the agencies should have proposed better briefs, drawing on what was useful from the consultant reports, avoiding what wasn’t or was clearly going to harm the brand. At that point the Bud clients needed to listen carefully, debate it skillfully and collaborate on agreeing powerful briefs.

The Great Recession is partly to blame, as is unchecked Procurement thinking.

Budget cutbacks and the retrenchment of expensive but experienced ad talent have taken a toll. We seem to be left with scared ad agency people lacking the experience and the faith in their craft, and thus also the confidence in it, to do their jobs bravely and professionally. To say a professional “No” instead of an easy, but ultimately ruinous “Yes”.

Advertising is an industry with a high proportion of people eager to please and who are in fundamentally weak positions relative to their clients. As a result they are thus very vulnerable to being bullied by equally scared, inexperienced or under-qualified marketing staff.

The result of all of this seems to be increasing levels of professional cowardice. Among advertising people, and among Marketers too.

That old Young & Rubicam house ad nails it. The one that shows a spinal column from the neck to the coccyx with the headline, as I recall it:

“This is a backbone. You can’t run a good ad agency without one.”

Actually, you can’t run any good business without one.

(PS, if anyone has a copy or a link to that Y&R ad please link it in the comments below or email me. Tx.)

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