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Calling Out Corb Lund and Budweiser

A screen capture of the Corb Lund Budweiser ad.

I am calling out Corb Lund. I don’t normally do this. I try to stay positive while still being honest. I don’t normally criticize an individual over a beer decision. But today I make an exception.

Yesterday an ad was released (or at least I first saw it) featuring alt-country/punk musician Corb Lund promoting Budweiser (you can see it here). Not just promoting Budweiser, but backing their new “Alberta Made” campaign. The ad has Lund talking about Alberta values while alternating shots of Alberta scenery and Budweiser placements flash across the screen. The climax has Lund on stage wearing a Bud t-shirt and flanked by huge “Alberta Made” banners. In his tweet promoting the ad he calls Bud “our cowboy beer”.

Lund wouldn’t be the first musician to shill for a big beer company, nor will he be the last. So why bring this up? Because it is a very unfortunate combination of branding that, I believe, doesn’t look good on Lund.

Lund has built his career on quirky, wry songs that simultaneously honour and send up rural culture. It has allowed him to create a unique cross-genre appeal. I first experienced Lund when he was in the Edmonton punk band The Smalls and have been a fan of his music ever since. I am not much of a country music fan, but Lund maintains a distinct punk ethos in his songs that appeals to me.

Which is why his decision to do this campaign is so disappointing. Lund is an independent artist who has spent his career scrapping and fighting for attention. He has nurtured a brand of being the underdog working hard to reach fans of good music.

Sound familiar? Yeah, sounds a lot like a small craft brewery.

That is why his endorsement of Bud is problematic.

Aligning himself with the largest beer corporation in the world is an issue in itself. But I can at least see a defence of that decision. He appeals, mostly, to a country music crowd who are more likely to still be attached to Bud, Coors and other standard lagers of that nature. On that level it is a safe call.

Except that he is also well-known and respected by a more alternative music crowd (including me). Connecting himself to ABInbev becomes particularly problematic for that segment. Which is why it might be a mistake for him.

Further, it is one thing to hold up a can of Bud and say “this Bud’s for you”. It is another thing to participate in ABInbev’s crass attempt to re-position its American-born, global brand as Alberta made. I wrote the other day about the campaign and its repugnant attempt to link Bud to Alberta values (read here). It is fundamentally dishonest.

To associate himself with such intentional misleading risks damaging Lund’s very strong brand. Plus he is contributing to the dishonesty, which is just unsettling.

I am sure they paid him a lot of money. Good for him. I am also pretty sure this tempest in a beer mug will do little to derail his rising career – music fans won’t vote with their feet over beer. But it is one of those things that can linger. It will leave a caustic, bad taste in the mouths of many of his fans – me included – that will reverberate in the years to come.

I don’t know what it will mean, but I do know that his decision to promote Budweiser’s Alberta Made campaign marks a turning point for Lund. One that might very well mean I leave him behind. Which, after 20 years of being a Corb Lund fan, makes me very sad.

22 comments to Calling Out Corb Lund and Budweiser

  • If reputation and creative capital where actual money, Corb just invested all of his in the marketing equivalent of Beanie Babies.

  • I credit this to the current markup policy.

    The big brewers have been lobbying for years to eliminate small brewer markups. Finally they found a province to do just that.

    Except, of course, for Alberta brewers, who get that markup difference returned to them.

    So, the big guys can ignore all brewers outside of Alberta – their beer suddenly became very expensive because they have the same markup without the economy of scale – and focus on their new enemy – Buy Local.

    And, as we are learning, nobody can scream their message louder than Budweiser, especially when they can focus.

    Craft beer drinkers will ignore or even ridicule this – the other 80 or 90% of the population will eat it up. As said in the earlier posting – ignore this at your peril.

    • beerguy

      Interesting thought. I am not sure how much Alberta mark up policy shapes the marketing strategies of over at ABInbev Canada, but worth thinking about.

      • This reply seems to not line up with the right post, but I will just put it here and hope it makes the connection with the previous post.

        I think that the environment in which brewers operate HUGELY shapes marketing strategies. Including markups in a province, especially when they changed so drastically. Having a bunch of your competitors going from pennies per litre to $1.25 per litre overnight, while your markup remained the same, definitely got their attention. You can bet the farm on that.

        • PretentiousCraftGuy

          Actually you’re looking at this wrong. The big guys have been lobbying for years to have the mark-up policies changed in favour of keeping the small brewers program. I’m sure they don’t want to give away any advantages to ANY brewer, but as I understand it, the reason for the policy change in 2015, and then again in 2016 were as follows;

          Prior to 2015 changes, a Brewer named Minhas was paying the same mark-up rates as a Albertan brewer under a certain volume would (Big Rock).
          Only unlike Big Rock, they were employing Americans, in an American brewery, in Wisconsin to produce their beer for as cheap as possible. This would then be sold in Alberta creating a market that Big Rock attempted to compete with their products AGD, Bow Valley, and 5 different liquor store brands (Presidents CHoice, Liquor Depot, etc). So allowing Minhas to take advantage of a tax credit designed for Albertan craft to grow, actually cut Big Rock’s profits, NOT the big guys. If you don’t believe me, review their Annual reports between 2010 and today. Market cap seems to have significantly declined in the past 5 years for some unknown reason…. 😉 So arguing against that change is very Anti-Craft of you.

          From the 2015 changes to August 2016, there was another brewer in Saskatchewan doing the same business model as Minhas, but at least keeping production in Canada. Again, this takes advantages designed to promote the Alberta craft industry, and gives it to out of province discount brewers (over 60% of their production was sold in Alberta, with over 80% of that being value brands).

          Since August 2016, DOZENS of small brewers have popped up new breweries because the market is perfect conditions for them! Companies who are non-Albertan are obviously upset about trade barriers put up by this. They are in the process of suing the Albertan government over the tax structure change, which if Alberta loses, will be a huge detriment to craft across Canada. I encourage you to research Ontario’s brewery tax program… that Steamwhistle takes advantage of. Or Saskatchewan’s tax program…. that Great West takes advantage of. If precedent is set for “protectionist tax grant” structures to be reviewed, a lot of industries will go under review. BC Wine, Quebec Beer, Inter-provincial laws against transport of beer from Province 1 to Province 2.

          SO arguing that the involvement of Big Guys lobbying to have a new tax structure makes 0 sense given that it makes no impact on them and does nothing but help the true Alberta Craft brewers.

          That addresses your first point.

          If you do 30 seconds of research, you will see that the Edmonton Labatt Brewery has been a significant contributor to the community of Alberta since it’s construction. Regardless of what country their ownership sits in, they employee probably more Albertans than any other Alberta brewer. They definitely pay more in taxes than any other Albertan brewer. And they brew all the the Alberta Made Budweiser in Alberta. So there are no false claims to anything they have said.

          Arguing that Big is Bad, is just dumb. Same dumb argument as “That band sold out”. You make a product, and its good, so people buy it and tell their friends. Then more people buy it, and you can afford to start advertising it. Then more people buy it, and now you are evil because you “Sold Out”. Don’t judge people or companies for what they drink or what they sell. Judge them based on the impact they make on you and your lives. A lot of the entertainment you get wouldn’t be possible without multi-nationals sponsoring whatever entertainment you are watching (UFC, NFL, CFL, NHL, Stampede, Cable TV Ads, etc).

          • beerguy

            Thanks for your comment. You make many interesting points. I will just gently say you oversimplify the argument. I fully recognize that the Labatt Edmonton plan employs hundreds of people with good, unionized job. I support that. I know that the bulk of beer consumers prefer the stuff they brew.I am fine with that, too, as I don’t second guess consumer choices.

            The issue is how do you sell your brand. As the biggest beer corporation in the world selling a distinctly classic American beer, trying to call it the quintessential Alberta beer is a step too far. That is my issue.

            I support the jobs Labatt creates in Edmonton. But it shoudln’t overshadow the jobs created by the 50+ craft breweries in the province. And, for the record, I am pretty sure collectively they employ more people than Labatt Edmonton.

  • Scott

    Hey Corb! It’s time to switch to whiskey!

    • Brady

      Like Alberta Premium, which is cheap, and actually pretty good for Canadian-made rye whisky, but, y’know, in the end, owned by a Japanese holding concern.

  • Dave

    Does it really matter? Who is actually going to be influenced by Mr.Lund’s endorsement of Bud?
    Anybody?
    Hello?
    Anyone?
    **crickets**

    Right. Shame on him for being able to leverage his brand equity and get paid. As stated “…the underdog working hard to reach fans of good music”. God forbid he seize a deal that might afford him the opportunity to make putting out music a litter easier. You say his alignment with Bud doesn’t look good on him, I say the inability to separate the artist from how he finances the creation of his art looks bad on you. How many Alberta craft brewers were cuing up to sponsor Mr. Lund? The Pitchfork music festival in Chicago attracts over 40 indie artists and 50,000 attendees. BUT it’s sponsored by Goose Island and since GI is part of the evil empire we should probably question the ethos of those artists and our support of them right?

    I get it, the Multi-Nationals do some pretty shady things. They have deep pockets that allow them to be a powerful lobby within government, monopolize hops, buy up shelf space, control distribution, etc. I don’t agree with any of it and I don’t support it with my beer buying dollar. But I also won’t begrudge anyone who has struggled to make a dime, seeing a payday when one of the big guys shows up with a dump truck full of cash.

    This is another sign of the growing level of pretension in the craft beer community. When I found my way into the craft scene 20 years ago the lack of pretentiousness was one of the things really attractive about the community. I love craft beer but I find myself less and less interested in identifying myself with the community and being advocate there of.

    • beerguy

      Thanks for your comment, Dave. I appreciate your perspective on this. I don’t think the promotion of Bud, per se, is my issue. It is both him and ABInbev wrapping Bud in the Alberta flag, making it seem more Alberta and Alberta itself. I respect artists need to find ways of getting paid, but I think Corb could have a better radar on the KIND of tone he set with his endorsement.

      Difference of opinion is always respected on this site. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Brady

    It’s really an issue of ‘Alberta-made’ vs. ‘Alberta-owned’, which strangely hasn’t been focused on here (other than the ‘Alberta-born’ mention). And no, I don’t give a shit about the musicians involved. Gots to get paid.

    • beerguy

      Brady, you make a good point. Ownership matters. But I don’t think that is the core of my argument. It is about what are the origins and pedigree of the beer. Is Bud really an Albertan beer, no matter where it is made?

      • Brady

        Thanks, Jason. Times are a’ shifting, of course, and the pedigree of what we consume is important, but not the be all, end all. Case in point – Coca Cola (and their myriad sub-products). Chances are, we all consume some of them on a regular basis, and hopefully try and avoid giving them to our children. While at Folding Mountain earlier this week with my pre-schooler, they didn’t have any milk or juice (growing pains, excuse the quasi-pun), but they did have the Grizzly Paw craft soda line. I checked the label, and with cane sugar and orange juice as the main ingredients, my little guy had his first ‘pop’, shared with his Pop. My craft bias got him something that he wanted, but had never had before.

        Ok, back on point – if AB-InBev wants to say that they have have been brewing in Alberta since 1980 (which I assume is true), then I can’t argue with a marketing claim of ‘Proudly Alberta-made since 1980’ (the sign I saw driving past Labatts yesterday – notice the distinction between ‘Proudly Albertan’, and ‘Proudly Alberta-made’). Alberta-made? Bud and Coke, for that matter, yes. Albertan? Bud and Coke, no.

  • Chad

    I choose to drink Alberta craft beer because it is really good and my money will support Albertans. I liked Corb Lund because his music is good and because he is Albertan. I like Corb Lund less now… his past work and contributions have not changed, but nonetheless: I feel a little betrayed by the lack of reciprocated Albertan loyalty. Show me a single Albertan who would freely proclaim that Budweiser is an Albertan beer, without being paid for it. I don’t care about the semantics of whether the beer is literally made in Alberta or not… the brand has always been vociferously American. The fact that the big boys of beer are trying to leverage themselves as some kind of local product just shows how much of an effect the real local craft beer producers are having on the market.

    • Tayber Voyer

      For what it’s worth, every person I know from small town Alberta who isn’t into craft beer drinks Bud. If any of my Uncles or Cousins are coming for a visit, I pick up a case of bud. It’s what they drink. They are Corb fans too. If they are from Sask they drink Pil. I try to get them to drink craft beer and they say: “Thanks, but I’ll have a bud if you got it.”

  • Chad

    Here’s a thought: would we be having the same discussion if it was an ad for Labatt’s Blue, proclaiming itself “Alberta Made”, backed by Corb Lund?

  • Justin

    How is this not supporting albertans? They’ve had a brewery here longer than the craft brewery’s have? They are finally talking about it.

    Big rock, wild rose and any other brewer would love to be that size, it’s just not financially fisable.

  • Val C

    Good arguments. As a friend said: “Isn’t there an Alberta craft brewery who could sponsor him?” *cough* Big Rock

  • Hunter

    Overthinking this. Bud has had a brewery in Alberta for a long time, there is Bud being brewed by Albertans. I know, work, drink with many cowboys in Alberta, Bud is no doubt the most commonly drank beer by cowboys here, just like Sask. farmers like to drink Pilsner, they identify with it. They just want something cold and wet after a days work or play. No shits given for flavour profile or who is responsible for brewing it.

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