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The king is coming ... in retro cans

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- Budweiser is going retro.

Looking to leverage the past of the 129-year-old beer brand to 20-something consumers craving all things retro, Anheuser-Busch is marketing 12-ounce Budweiser cans sporting packaging from the 1930s to the 1950s.

The three-can series began this week with the rollout of a reproduction of the first Budweiser can, dating to 1936 -- the first year of such metal packaging.

True to the period, the gold can has black-and-red labeling plus a little advice for a post-Depression America unaccustomed then to drinking beer from such packaging -- a three-step illustration of how to use a can opener.

Using the company's vast archives as a guide, the promotional series also includes replicated cans from 1954 and 1956, with each version to spend four weeks on store shelves and in bars before giving way to the next.

The 1954 version supplants more of the gold with red-and-white labeling, with the can two years later eliminating the gold altogether in favor of red and white.

During their run, the cans will complement -- not replace -- contemporary Budweiser packaging.

The chief marketer of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser calls the mission of the historic nod to a beer that "always has been part of the American fiber" as two-pronged -- revisit the history of Budweiser brand dating to 1876 and court nostalgia-minded consumers in their 20s.

"I think people know Budweiser, and consumers know it as a timeless, classic brand," said Andy Goeler, senior director of marketing of top-selling Budweiser for the St. Louis-based brewer. "People see this old can, and they make that link. Consumers are interested in this kind of stuff."

The promotion, which Goeler says "reflects periods when things were simpler and easier to understand, will be backed by vintage television spots that will be aired untouched.

A black-and-white commercial titled "Nightclub" dates to 1956 and shows a tuxedo-wearing quartet doffing their tophats crooning the Budweiser theme after signing, "Thank you, thank you. You really are grand. And now for the song that's sweeping the land."

Another commercial, from about 1964 and called "Desert," shows a man -- lost in parched, barren wasteland -- thirsty until his rescuer suddenly rolls up with a Budweiser-filled truck.

Goeler said he has no lofty sales expectations of the retro cans, with the program meant more as a way to "reinforce what consumers say about Budweiser -- it's America's beer."

Juli Niemann, an analyst with RT Jones Capital Equities here, questions Anheuser-Busch's "spending a carload of money in an area that has marginal benefit," by her estimation perhaps playing only to collectors.

"Young people aren't particularly interested in that," she said. "Do they like retro? Yeah. But that's in furniture and clothes, not necessarily in beer."

Goeler might differ, saying he floated the prospect of the promotion during visits to bars in six U.S. cities, showing off the retro cans to consumers he said "were really excited by them."

When rolled out in 1876 by E. Anheuser & Co., Budweiser became America's first national beer brand and was marketed the beer like no other, using billboards and promotional items.

By the 20th century, the St. Louis company known then as Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association was billing Budweiser as "The King of Bottled Beers." Three years after the Prohibition ended its run, Budweiser arrived in cans.


On the Net:

Anheuser-Busch: http://www.anheuser-busch.com


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