Michelob Soars in the Space Age
From 1951 through to 1977 Anheuser-Busch enjoyed almost interrupted sales increases, sales dominance, and good profitability. This table extract shows shares of national barrelage (all brands) for major producers in that period (The Brewing Industry: Staff Report of the Bureau of Economics, Federal Trade Commission, 1978, p. 22):
In 1961 Anheuser-Busch shipped 8,500,000 bbl, of which 7,100,000 were Budweiser, 1,100,000 Busch Bavarian, and 300,000 Michelob (Printers Ink, Vol. 278, 1962).
For Michelob, this was mostly draft beer, as bottling only started late in 1961 and the format was new. Hence the small shipment considering too Michelob was extra-priced and distributed selectively.
In 1968, all Anheuser-Busch brands shipped rose to 13,600,000 bbl (Marketing/Communications, 1967, p. 28).
By 1977, Anheuser-Busch is shipping 25,000,000 bbl of Budweiser, 6,400,000 of Michelob, and 3,400,000 of Busch (Beverage Industry, Vol. 74, 1983, p. 31).
As noted, in 1961, a pasteurized bottled version of Michelob was issued, meant for national distribution, and both it and the draft were lightened with rice adjunct.
A news ad of March 1962 in the Evening Star of Washington, D.C. (via Chronicling America) displayed the new bottle, a striking contemporary design. As signalled in the ad, the brand was still in limited distribution, but that would soon change.
The steady climb in Michelob sales was due to wide distribution of the bottled version and a determined advertising push (The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising (2002), ed. John McDonough and Karen Egolf, p. 77).
An interesting side-effect noted by Victor and Carol Tremblay in The U.S. Brewing Industry: Data and Economic Analysis (2005), p. 107, is that bottling and extended promotion of Michelob opened the door to greater import sales. The earlier formulation competed with import quality, while the new lighter version was more American in nature.
The opinions on Michelob I reproduced of famed author and beer fancier H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) bear this out. To adapt an old slogan viz. Champagne and Munich Lowenbrau, when you are out of Czech pilsner, bring on the Michelob.
That was then, but Michelob remained virtually alone in the super-premium, or highest-priced domestic category. That would change partly when Miller introduced the self-same Lowenbrau in 1975 as a domestic brew.
Even then, Michelob dominated super-premium sales for years to come, as earlier discussed.
The span in question, 1950s to mid-70s, was one, too, that appreciated the full-calorie Michelob. Lightened it may have been, but it was not a “light” – Michelob Light was introduced in 1978.
So this outlines Michelob’s ascent in the space age. In the next post I will give examples of where Michelob was available, and the different audiences to which it was marketed. The scope widened as the beer sought newer demographics.
Before 1961 Michelob might be found at an Ivy League or other college setting, seafood restaurants, the country club set, and better hotels and bars. In general an upmarket image prevailed, with some ethnic groups a specialized market.
Beer nerds also sought the beer – they weren’t invented with craft brewing, you know.
The ad above shows one target group of the new strategy: D.C. politicians, drawn from all over the country, and diplomats of the world and staff. Good thinking, Gussie.
Part V follows.
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