Report: Budweiser’s Iconic Packaging Fails to Maintain Brand’s Buzz

TV ads, other marketing efforts soar while in-store perception sinks

When people walk into the market to pick up supplies for a weekend get-together, they often think of Budweiser as an energetic, fun and friendly beer brand—until they hit the beer aisle. Those perceptions take a nosedive when shoppers see Bud’s red 12-pack next to all the other beer brands, according to a newly released audit of major beer brands by Affinnova, a market research firm.

Despite its iconic packaging, Budweiser fails to receive even an average level of attention on the shelf, and its package design significantly lowers its brand perception, according to the survey of 450 consumers this year.

“Consumers form a positive impression of the brand from Bud’s TV ads and other marketing, but when they see the product on the shelf, away from the halo of the cool ad or the excitement of the sponsored event, the package does not communicate at the same level, while the beer brands around it are doing it better, “ said Blake Howard, svp of design solutions at Affinnova.

Among nine mass-market beer brands studied, Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser ranked first for being affordable, confident, energetic, fun, friendly and genuine—before people enter the store. But on the shelf, Bud ranks second to fourth in all those traits, except for genuineness. “The in-store context is where a brand works the hardest, it’s where you have to win. And for beer, the on-the-shelf landscape is changing quickly,” said Howard. Heineken is Bud’s biggest in-store packaging rival, ranking first in several brand traits, per the audit.

Budweiser maintains that its package design is solid. "With packaging innovations that keep Budweiser top-of-mind with younger drinkers, we’ve still been able to highlight our tradition, history and heritage," said Brian Perkins, vp of Budweiser North America. "The bow-tie design, for instance, highlights the iconic symbol of Budweiser, and is a timeless symbol of the brand featured on wooden crates and packaging since 1956,” he said. In May, the company introduced smaller, bow-tie shaped cans in 8-packs.

Is consumer culture in America outgrowing Bud’s imagery? Rick Wise, CEO of Lippincott, a brand strategy consultancy, doesn’t think so. “American consumers are attracted to brands that have a true story, are transparent and are innovative. Budweiser is trying to appeal to these trends. Since its design upgrade in 2011, it has a more modern look that can take the brand into the future, while still appealing to its loyal drinkers,” he said.

Sales paint a different picture. Budweiser U.S. sales were down 4.1 percent for the first quarter of this year, per Anheuser-Busch InBev. Nielsen reports that Bud sales in the four weeks ending April 13 sunk 7.7 percent.