The brew, long dubbed as “a beer for connoisseurs,” has been made with imported hops, a high percentage of two-row barley malt and adjuncts like rice and corn. Those adjuncts will be gone from the new recipes. A new embossed teardrop bottle is intended to give Michelob a “worth more” look as it tries to stay in the super premium niche among imports and specialty brews. A-B had adopted the microbrew practice of creating seasonal beers—such as Michelob Seasonal All Malt Lager in 2004-05—and sample cases. Yet the redo is not intended to align Michelob with craft beers, say wholesalers. Rather the strategy is to bring the brand closer to its original roots and target, which is older consumers. Product literature describes the target as 28 to 54-year-old drinkers who might be drawn to a beer with “more robust malty body and distinctive hop character.
First of all, it’s awesome that this venerable American brew is returning to an all-malt formula, losing the corn and rice adjuncts. I think this will really give the brewers a chance to demonstrate high quality in what’s traditionally perceived as a low-qual market. We’ll definitely be trying this one when it launches.
But their brand concept, as reported in the story, is schizophrenic. It’s great that the beer is being aligned as super-premium, with appropreate media support, packaging, and the other trappings of sophistication, but how the hell can you do that in 2007 without aligning the product with craft beers? Isn’t it because of craft beers that these changes in production and marketing become necessary in the first place?
Michelob’s brand managers will say they want to compete with import Eurolagers, not domestic micros. Fine, I’ll give them that. But then they shouldn’t count on “bringing the brand closer to its original roots and target.” Michelob is an American beer, positioned higher up the chain than Busch, Stroh’s, or Bud, but still available in $5 pitchers at the local watering hole. It’s not a beer people drink to savor. They quench with it. They chug it. They bounce ping-pong balls into it, and that’s just the way it is.
Michelob is making a mistake with a two-pronged branding strategy. Either consolidate the brand as super-premium, pushing the reversion to all-malt brewing, or go retro and appreal to the more ironically minded.
Shooting for both is likely to get them neither.