How Budweiser Won “The Big Game”

In its annual Super Bowl Issue, AdWeek published survey results on what consumers were looking for in ads for this year’s “big game”. All survey results pointed towards viewers wanting funny, cute commercials starring animals and celebrities. Ultimately, this year’s most successful commercial — Budweiser’s ‘Born the Hard Way’ — hardly featured any of those elements, yet it has still garnered nearly 30 million views on YouTube.

Budweiser knew that in Super Bowl LI, the company had to make a statement. In 2015, post Super Bowl XLIX, Budweiser announced that it would do away with ads featuring puppies, much to the disappointment of the public. Although the puppy ads had become viral hits in years past, the spots didn’t increase beer sales according to the VP of Marketing for Anheuser-Busch, Jorn Socquet. In Super Bowl 50, the company featured two arguably forgettable ads, including a PSA by Helen Mirren. In 2017, the Budweiser had to make an impact — and a unique statement — with its content in order to rise back to the top. Enter “Born the Hard Way”, the brand’s return to Super Bowl commercial supremacy and what has now become Super Bowl LI’s most viewed and shared commercial.

“You don’t look like you’re from around here.” – the opening line of Budweiser’s most poignant commercial in years. Cue a flashback — a young’s man’s journey across the Atlantic from Germany to America and a look at the hardships he endures.

For individuals watching the spot for the first time, the cinematic shots in Budweiser’s Super Bowl advert may remind one of a big-budget blockbuster movie trailer, rather than a commercial for beer. With dozens of extras dressed in Victorian-era costumery and dramatic scenes, like the main character’s battles crashing waves and burning steamboats on the Mississippi River, Budweiser strives for artistic and historical integrity in the campaign. Even the brand’s trademark Clydesdales are reduced to a mere cameo as a formality more than anything else. The sixty-second period piece’s story of a young immigrant’s ambitious journey to bring the perfect beer to America couldn’t have arrived at a better time, given the political tensions in the United States.

It isn’t until the end of the commercial that viewers learn that the young man in the spot is Adolphus Busch, one of the two founders of American brewing company Anheuser-Busch. His 1857 transatlantic journey from Hamburg, Germany to St. Louis, Missouri — the city where Busch would gain his greatest acclaim before becoming an American staple with the introduction of Budweiser — indirectly addresses divisive issues and calls for universal acceptance. Busch’s journey is far from easy as he encounters prejudice from the locals with shouts of “You’re not wanted here!”

As the commercial draws to a close, we learn that the man who examined Busch at the beginning of the commercial is none other than Eberhard Anheuser, the second part of the Anheuser-Busch partnership. Fittingly, a beer becomes an olive branch between the newly arrived immigrant and his future collaborator as they exchange a handshake and introductions, leading to one of the most iconic partnerships in American business. The captivating tribute to immigrants is both historical and topical due to the current political climate of our nation.

Though there are mixed sentiments on whether or not Budweiser intended to make a political statement in its Super Bowl LI spot, it’s undeniable that the advert contained political undertones. Budweiser responded to critics that by no means is the campaign a response to the new presidency, arguing that the commercial had been eight months in the making. Others are not quite convinced. Budweiser nevertheless has suffered backlash from some viewers, who see the ad as an attack on the current presidential agenda on immigration. Ultimately, only time will tell whether the powerful campaign will hurt or help Budweiser win back market share it has lost to the craft beer industry in recent years.

Super Bowl commercials have come a long way since Joe Namath shaved with Noxema Shaving Cream in a spot during Super Bowl III. So what exactly is the formula for the perfect Super Bowl commercial? Short answer is that there is none. A winning Super Bowl ad is one that captivates its audience, however it may accomplish this. One year it might be sharing a Coke with “Mean” Joe Greene, the next it might be splitting a Snickers with Betty White. This year it simply came down to telling the story of one man’s “American dream.” Budweiser’s power of storytelling mixed with its ability to tap into human emotion happened to trump humor and animals this year. We’ll see what it does for the “King of Beers” in the coming year.


Michael Kowalski
Associate Digital Strategist

1 Comment

  1. Robin

    Great insight Michael! Thank you!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *