Samuel Johnson said that patriotism is “the last refuge of the scoundrel”. I wonder what he would have made of Budweiser’s decision to change its name for the next six months-—over the Independence Day and Labour Day holidays, as well as Thanksgiving and during what promises to be an ugly and highly divisive election campaign—to ‘America’. The famous logo will be replaced on the packs, which will also carry phrases from well-loved songs and phrases. The brand is quite literally wrapping itself in a flag.
It is doubtless the move has been meticulously researched and risk-managed. Maybe the opportunity to dramatically represent simple, unifying values in complicated and divided times seemed too good to pass up. If your country feels like it is in crisis and its political system appears to be tearing itself apart, maybe putting its name on a beer gives you a sense that all at least has a chance of being right with the world again. After all, the logic could go: what could be simpler and more bonding than a familiar bottle of beer?
Maybe. But here’s the thing: patriotism actually isn’t, by and large, the last refuge of the scoundrel. It is a word that binds together a set of deep, complex loyalties, often in a personal way that people can’t fully describe. It does so amongst people of a wide range of views and beliefs. There’s always been something flag-waving about the leading beer brand in many markets, but will Bud’s boldness on this occasion seem more like cynical and even alienating cultural appropriation?
The success will depend on whether consumers see the brand as representing the values that the brand is blatantly seeking to associate itself with—whether it’s true to a commonly felt sense of purpose or merely wrapping itself in a promotional sleeve.
James Thompson is global managing director of Diageo Reserve (Diageo’s luxury portfolio). Follow or tweet him @JamesThompson1