Hoops on Hops: Beer battles and the power of being nice

This screen-grab shows a giant barrel of corn syrup being delivered in a beer commercial that ran during the Super Bowl.
This screen-grab shows a giant barrel of corn syrup being delivered in a beer commercial that ran during the Super Bowl.

Last week, Super Bowl LIII was played in Atlanta. More than 100 million viewers in the U.S. enjoyed watching the game and the ramped-up television commercials. The game itself was an epic defensive battle. The commercials were fun, ranging from irreverent to socially relevant.

During the game, the largest beer producer in the United States put on quite an offensive play via advertising. It ran a couple commercials in which they directly called out their competitors — by name — on the ingredients used to make their beer. The gist was that one ingredient in particular, corn syrup, used by these breweries is inferior and possibly unhealthy. I thought the commercials were pretty funny, featuring giant barrels filled with corn syrup and a Trojan horse of sorts, but I admit I was very surprised to see such a direct hit from one brewery to others.

Beer is traditionally made with barley, hops, water and yeast. Larger breweries also use rice and corn as fermentable sugar sources. It’s very common in the big beer realm of brewing, and folks have known about it for generations. While some breweries commonly use rice as a fermentable sugar source, others use corn. There are a few reasons for using these cereals in addition to malt: cost, lighter body and lighter color of the beer are the main ones.

The big deal rolling out with these Super Bowl ads was the direct call out of other breweries, again by name, and the inference that these breweries’ beers are somehow substandard because of the use of corn syrup. To be clear, we’re not talking about high-fructose corn syrup here — which has raised the concerns of some people — just basic corn syrup. Even smaller breweries in the craft section don’t typically talk smack or run negative ads against their colleagues. Interestingly, many small brewers use corn or rice or sorghum or other sugar sources in some of their beers.

The fallout from the ads has been wide-reaching and, in my opinion, certainly not what the advertiser was aiming for. I’m assuming the advertiser was hoping to gain big exposure and even bigger sales of their products, but response I’ve seen over social-media platforms is negative — not just from the competition, but also from corn farmers.

The vanishing of civilized discourse in the public market could very well be a mark of desperation as the beer landscape is becoming a more forbidding and crowded arena.

It has been interesting watching smaller brewers try to attack large macro-brewers over the past few years then pretty much slow down on that strategy as it became more evident that the big guys were not a huge threat. Why? Because customer bases are very different. Then big beer went after small beer with poor results and cries of bully! And now we’ve got the biggest going after number two and three. I wonder if people really care, or if they are happily enjoying the beer they usually enjoy.

It is somewhat entertaining but also concerns me for the future. I wonder what’s next in cutthroat antics in the brewing world.

Ultimately it’s you, the consumer, who decides what works for you — not some advertising firm or CEO somewhere. The power is in your hands and speaks from your wallets. Plain and simple: just drink what you like!

Just for fun, I will finish with a few of my favorite beer ads, some of which are available on YouTube.

  • The original Dos Equis “most interesting man in the world” campaign
  • The old-school Miller Lite ads featuring sports personalities
  • Bud and the Spuds McKenzie ads, also the holiday Clydesdales ads
  • Heineken Christmas ad from last year
  • From this year’s Super Bowl, Jeff Bridges as “The Dude” in a Stella Artois ad.

Enjoy your beer of choice, and let’s all try to relax and get along.

Cheers!