Ah, the Pepsi Challenge of yore brings back the sweet nostalgia of mass marketing with misdirection. The actual Pepsi Challenge originally took the form of a single blind taste test — Pepsi vs. Coke — and these challenges would actually happen at malls and other public locations. Pulitzer Prize winning American author and columnist Dave Barry described it in his book Bad Habits best as: “Pepsi’s ongoing misguided attempt to convince the general public that Coke and Pepsi are not the same thing, which of course they are.”
That quote applies very nicely to MillerCoors’ recent Know Your Beer program. This summer, the beer beverage conglomerate will be giving barflys the opportunity to blind taste challenge Miller Lite against Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Bud Light. The idea implied here is that Miller Lite and Bud Light are not the same thing, which of course they basically are. From Fortune magazine:
“We want to give people a chance to evaluate beers side-by-side,” said Jason Pratt, a MillerCoors beer educator, in an interview with Fortune. “And the hope at the end of it is they have a better understanding of the beers in front of them and they can make a choice based on what’s in front of them.”
Here’s how it works: MillerCoors will ask drinkers to evaluate two beers, listed simply as beer A and B, based on color, smell, and taste. The hope, of course, is that the drinker will discover they prefer a Miller Lite over Bud. “We aren’t afraid to compete on the merits of the beer alone,” said Pratt.
What Pratt means is that MillerCoors says the promotion won’t be displaying any branding or marketing, so that blind taste testers won’t know what they’re trying. This of course comes at a time when “lite” beer is not only being pressured from craft beer, but even more detrimental, lighter Mexican imports. The U.S. beer industry achieved its third consecutive year of volume growth in 2016 reaching 239.4m hectoliters, according to this recent global report. Imported beer, specifically from Mexico, is leading the volume growth. Four of the top five brands of domestic beers were in decline last year (Budweiser, Coors Light, Bud Light and Miller Light) while Corona’s growth signifies the Mexican beer trend.
In April, Constellation Brands announced a massive 17 percent increase in sales for the company’s beer portfolio, which is benefiting from gains in volume of not only Corona but also Modelo and Pacifico (Constellation owns those brands for the U.S. market, per an agreement with the U.S. government over AB InBev’s purchase of Grupo Modelo). In the end, it’s a lot of marketing with very little substance — a vain attempt to gain back market share in an increasingly cutthroat market tiring of older brands (even older craft brands). The only thing this campaign really has going for it is free beer for thirsty bar patrons. Back to the Fortune article:
MillerCoors has done this form of marketing before, launching a well-known “Taste Challenge” 13 years ago and serving up a few smaller iterations of this program in subsequent years. There is one big difference between the 2004 version and 2017’s iteration. The prior version was loudly marketed as a Miller Lite program. That led to some skewed results. “I liked Bud better, but I wasn’t going to say that,” one patron told The New York Times at the time. “They were giving us free beer.”