Note in this space on the marketing of...


November 09, 1993

A RECENT note in this space on the marketing of "Newyorkskaya" (New York) vodka in Moscow reminded a colleague of a similar coals-to-Newcastle story. About 10 years ago, some marketing genius got the bright idea of peddling American beer to the Germans.

"I happened to be in West Berlin one day when a billboard caught my eye," the colleague recalls. "It pictured amber waves of grain, the product name, 'American Beer,' and the corporate logo of Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Budweiser.

"There used to be a brand called 'American' in Baltimore many years ago, but it wasn't an Anheuser-Busch beer. I had never heard of any so-called 'American' beer in Germany, and the whole idea seemed ridiculous. Americans of taste drink imported German beers. To what abysm of degradation must a German sink to tipple American beer?

"With a little digging, I found an Anheuser-Busch spokesman, who told me that 'American' beer was being test-marketed for the time being in West Berlin only. He said 'American' was not too American -- that is, light and bland -- but was brewed more to German taste.

"Then why would Germans need it, already having German beers brewed to their taste?

"The selling point was supposed to be the superiority of American grain. Every German has a mental picture of the bounty of American agriculture, the spokesman said, and the idea was to associate the beer with that.

"But, as Ross Perot was saying the other day, you can put your dog food in eye-catching packages, you can market it with clever commercials, you can hire the most creative brains on Madison Avenue, but if dogs won't eat it, it won't sell.

"Alas, Germans wouldn't drink it and 'American' beer joined the Edsel on the ash heap of history."

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