With renewable energy constantly in the news these days — AOC‘s tweets, the Sunrise Movement‘s activism, the Tesla phenomenon, solar energy’s rapidly dropping costs — is it any surprise that Budweiser is joining the trend? Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser has a definite appeal to a green audience in its Super Bowl LIII commercial, titled “Wind Never Felt Better.”
Eco- and social justice themes have also been evident in previous Budweiser commercials. Why is the No. 1 beer in the US beer market (it controls 46% of the entire industry’s US sales) now targeting individuals who are pushing the US to abandon fossil fuels?
A Dog, A Team, A Nod to Sustainability
The 2019 Budweiser Super Bowl commercial is really quite simple. For the majority of the 61 seconds, it focuses on Alice, a Dalmatian dog with her ears flapping and lips slapping as she sits on top of a Clydesdale-pulled wagon. In the late shots, the commercial pans out to identify hills dotted with wind turbines, with Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” not-so-subtly reinforcing the theme and slogan, “Now Brewed with Wind Power.”
According to AdWeek, the Budweiser ad, with its overt commitment to renewable energy, has been the year’s most-watched Super Bowl spot since its early release on YouTube (where it has 14 million views and growing).
Anheuser-Busch is accustomed to getting high visibility with its Super Bowl commercials. It has even been 1st on an annual Super Bowl Ad Meter survey organized by USA Today. Indeed, 2 Budweiser commercials have been at the top of the charts: a 2008 ad making light of the underdog-themed Rocky and the 1999 ad “Separated at Birth.” A pattern that emerges in the latter commercial connects to this year’s Super Bowl entry from Budweiser. Then as now, Dalmatians are featured. The 1999 commercial follows a pair of Dalmatian puppies which had been adopted by 2 separate owners as they reunite after one became a mascot dog on the Clydesdales’ carriage.
Anheuser-Busch: Commitment to Renewable Energy
Anheuser-Busch states that it is committed to sustainable energy use, with operations taking advantage of alternative forms of energy for its breweries, logistics fleets, and at the wholesale level. It announced in 2017 that, by 2025, 100% of the electricity it purchases to power its brewing and verticalized operations will come from renewable sources.
Host city Atlanta will be powered by 100% renewable wind energy during the week of Super Bowl LIII due to a donation from Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is a member of the RE 100 group. Atlanta is part of the Mayors For 100% Clean Energy campaign and plans to be 100% powered by clean energy by at least 2035.
The electricity used to power Atlanta the week of the Big Game will be sourced from clean, renewable energy at Enel Green Power’s Thunder Ranch wind farm in Oklahoma.
Critical Distance & Media Messages
In the media rich society in which we live, it is important to learn to critically analyze any media text — web sites, books, advertising, news, TV shows, movies, video games, magazines, and music.
The Media Education Lab’s founder Renee Hobbs has designed a “Smartphone” that displays the various “apps” for analyzing a media text on one side, and the “5 critical questions” of media literacy on the other side.
We can apply these concepts to the 2019 Budweiser Super Bowl commercial to uncover why the wind has become its protagonist.
Who is the Author, and What is the Purpose?
Budweiser’s agency selection process for this year’s wind power-focused Super Bowl ad began 8 months ago with a competitive pitch among multiple agencies. David Miami won out, though the development process continued into November.
“Super Bowl is one of the most exciting times of the year for our team and people all over the country,” Ricardo Marques, Anheuser-Busch’s vice president of marketing core and value brands, said in a statement. “Those who wait for the best commercials all year expect Budweiser to show up big, and we felt there was no better way to show up this year than to talk about our commitment to renewable electricity.”
But the push to renewable energy has an important subtext. Carlos Brito, the CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, said in 2017 that the company has long been thinking about how the beer business can conserve energy. “In some markets it’s cheaper to do this route. It makes business sense.” Anheuser-Busch InBev will enable developers to finance green power by promising to buy the output under a Power Purchase Agreement, which requires no capital outlay. A contract with a wind farm developer allows companies like Anheuser-Busch to buy a set amount of power over a long term, usually 20 years.
What Techniques are Used to Attract and Hold Your Attention?
Many techniques have been carefully designed within this ad to meet commonly-accepted conventions of the Super Bowl commercial genre as well as to garner audience interest in Anheuser-Busch. Probably more interesting than the (lack of) rising action is that it seems that the “Wind Never Felt Better” was shot with a camera perched on a drone — the shot moves and hovers, dips and rises into the sky. It allows the viewer to travel with the team, infusing a feeling of flying and symbolic freedom.
For more than 80 years, the Clydesdales have been icons on behalf of the brand, dating from the Prohibition era to Super Bowl Sunday. The Clydesdales refer to teams of horses used to pull restored turn-of-the-century beer wagons for Budweiser.
The Dalmatian was introduced to the traditional Budweiser Clydesdale procession in 1950 to celebrate the opening of the Newark brewery. These companions to the hitch had a vital role during the early days of brewing, as they were trained to protect the horses and guard the wagons while the drivers went in to make their deliveries.
Dylan sings in the commercial that the answer on many levels is blowin’ in the wind — climate change, social inequities, and damn good beer will all be the result if you buy into its product line.
What Lifestyles, Values, and Points of View are Represented?
Wind energy is playing a crucial role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Wind is an energy source that is a viable and clean alternative to fossil fuels, and the worldwide installed capacity of wind power has many economic and environmental advantages.
Anheuser-Busch’s Marques noted, “We are proud to be the first Anheuser-Busch brand and the first major beer brand to be brewed with 100% renewable electricity from wind power and, hopefully, we can use this moment to inspire others in our pursuit for a more sustainable future.”
AdAge notes that talking about an issue such as the environment is not totally playing it safe, considering that climate change is a topic that is often politicized, especially in the era of Donald Trump. However, Bud’s ad seems unlikely to draw much backlash, considering the brewer is talking about its own operations, rather doing anything that could be seen as preachy.
How Might Different People Interpret the Message?
Electricity is hard to grasp because it’s not something that the public can see in everyday actions. While ubiquitous and necessary, electricity activism requires establishing environmental impact and empowering consumers to accept alternative energy. That is problematic in some sectors.
For example, the Texas Public Policy Foundation recently published an article that argues the current process for granting tax abatements in Texas hides negotiations from public view, attempts to enact California-style policies that are costly and ineffective, and isn’t really a Texas-grown market or innovations but, rather, government favoritism, with special deals benefiting big corporations and masking hidden costs.
Voters in Arizona overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 127, which would have required Arizona’s electric utilities get 50% of their energy from renewables by 2030. The high cost of living, particularly energy costs, is a big reason many people are moving out of California to less expensive locales such as Nevada, says Eric Eisenhammer, founder of the Coalition of Energy Users and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.
“High energy costs are one of the reasons California has become so unaffordable and so many people have left,” Eisenhammer said. “In California, the poor and the working poor have been left behind. The Heritage Foundation’s Stephen Moore estimated an average Nevada family would see their utility bills alone rise by about $1,000 annually if Question 6 becomes law,” said Eisenhammer. “However, the costs could actually be much more because higher energy costs mean a higher cost of doing business across the economy and those costs would get passed down to consumers.”
The inaccuracies in this statement are so blatant that it would take an entire article to debunk them. Needless to say, the Heritage Foundation is a right-wing think tank which has a primary objective to protect fossil fuel industry assets and billionaires wealth.
What is Omitted from the Budweiser Message?
“Not everyone has a corporate social responsibility team to do what Budweiser is doing,” Drift co-founder and CEO Greg Robinson said. “So when Budweiser found out that Drift was helping people and businesses do what they did, which is matching their electricity consumption with clean power from actual power makers, they wanted to amplify the message that we can all make a real difference today.”
Drift is a 4-year-old software startup that operates a peer-to-peer marketplace which allows residential, business, and commercial customers to buy power directly from local solar, wind, hydroelectric, and other renewable energy providers. The company teamed with Budweiser as part of a Super Bowl promotion that offers a one-month free trial of any of Drift’s green energy plans.
Renewables like wind still face major obstacles. Some are inherent with all new technologies; others are the result of a skewed regulatory framework and marketplace. According to the Union for Concerned Scientists, the most obvious and widely publicized barrier to renewable energy are capital costs, or the upfront expense of building and installing solar and wind farms. Like most renewables, wind is inexpensive to operate, with free fuel and minimum maintenance. Thus, the majority of the expense comes from building the technology.
Unlike nuclear power, coal, and natural gas, wind draws upon a decentralized model, in which smaller generating stations, spread across a large area, work together to provide power. “Siting” is the need to locate things like wind turbines and solar farms on pieces of land. Doing so requires negotiations, contracts, permits, and community relations, all of which can increase costs and delay or kill projects. “Transmission” refers to the power lines and infrastructure needed to move electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s consumed. Because wind is just becoming a norm, most of what exists today was built to serve large fossil fuel and nuclear power plants.
And let’s not forget that, for most of the last century US electricity was dominated by certain major players, including coal, nuclear, and, natural gas. The multi-billion dollar fossil fuel industry continues to have outsized US political influence — even when politicians are asked to sign a No Fossil Fuel Money campaign donation pledge.
Previous Budweiser Social Justice Super Bowl Commercials
The Clydesdales were included in at least one Super Bowl commercial every year from Super Bowl IX in 1975 through Super Bowl LI in 2017. A perennial fan favorite on Super Bowl Sunday, the horses made their big game debut in 1975 and have appeared in more than 40 Super Bowl commercials.
In 2018, however, Budweiser replaced the Clydesdale motif with employees halting production of Budweiser at its Cartersville, Georgia-based brewery and distributing cans of emergency drinking water for victims of natural disasters in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California, as a rendition of “Stand By Me” plays in the background.
At a politically charged time in which the Trump administration began the Othering of immigrants, Budweiser ran a commercial about its co-founder, Adolphus Busch, and his journey from Germany to St. Louis in 1857.
Budweiser has been included in other renewable energy marketing videos, too. In 2016, Otto, an Uber startup, featured one of its trucks outfitted with autonomous driving technology as it shipped a truckload of Budweiser beer from Fort Collins, Co. to Colorado Springs, a distance of about 120 miles. The companies called it the first commercial delivery using a self-driving truck.
The truck cruised down Interstate 25 with an empty driver’s seat.
The Kentucky Coal Association is among the groups attacking the 2019 Budweiser wind Super Bowl ad, according to the Energy Policy Institute. Their attack was echoed by a project of a coal-backed group called the Committee for Constructive Tomorrow.
The American Energy Alliance, the “advocacy arm” of the Institute for Energy Research, also critiqued the validity of the Budweiser ad — it has, and these other affiliated political groups have, received millions of dollars from the Koch brothers as well as money from the coal industry. The attack was soon joined by Kevon Martis, an anti-wind activist with ties to the Institute for Energy Research and other groups funded by polluting industries.
Hmmm. Maybe the Green New Deal activism is making these mouthpieces for the fossil fuel industry nervous.
Yes! Keep at it, everyone!
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