Why is Anheuser-Busch celebrating failure?2nd September, 2014 by Dan Fox
There’s an old story about August Busch III that says a lot about leadership.
Seems “Mr. Budweiser” was being escorted on a store-tour by one of his distributors. In one account, he and his entourage came upon Heineken stacked and displayed in a prime spot where August believed Budweiser should’ve been. As I heard it told, the most powerful man in the beer business ranted and threw cases of the green bottles out of the way, breaking a number in the process.
True or not, that tale was repeated so often it became legend. The message? Budweiser distributors were expected to enforce the brewery’s will at retail.
That wisdom lives on today. Want your sales organization to “own the retail floor?” Show them how one clever sales guy found a way to get an orange VW Beetle into a beer aisle, outfit it with a “ShockTop,” stack beer all around it, and stop customers in their tracks. Then celebrate the achievement, and spread the word far and wide: “This is salesmanship! This is what we expect from the rest of you.”
Displays that drive business deserve celebration. Distributors who deliver results deserve celebration. Great leaders always lead by example. They show by what they do – and by the work of others they choose to highlight – the kind of effort they expect from their troops. And make no mistake, at every level of the company, people are watching closely to see exactly what the big boss’ agenda is. Watching for deeds, not just words. They want to see how the CEO’s priorities translate into their piece of the enterprise. They want to know what they can do to help the business move forward, and if it gets them noticed and advances their careers, so much the better.
What would be the point of celebrating failure?
Every large organization inevitably makes errors of judgment. Not every sales idea bears fruit. Some fail miserably. When that happens, they, too, can be used as examples to build organizational learning, and avoid repeating the same mistake. But what good leader would actually celebrate failure, as though it were somehow commendable, something to be aimed for?
On the only measure that matters – sales results – this year’s “Budweiser Puppy” SuperBowl ad was an abject failure. We said so at the time. While the commercial was well-liked and prompted all sorts of press coverage and social-media buzz, research showed it had no effect on purchase interest for Budweiser. Sales since have borne that out, continuing to decline without even a brief respite. Who would tell their organization to shoot for that kind of advertising?
The Anheuser-Busch leadership, that’s who.
Nominations for two Emmy awards in hand, the top brass at Anheuser-Busch approved this press release and splashed it on the Budweiser website. The unavoidable message to the organization: This is the kind of advertising we want for Budweiser.
There’s nothing wrong with awards. Many times, a company has no control over them. But choosing to celebrate them in this fashion is a conscious decision. One that clearly communicates to the marketing people, and their ad agencies, what they should aim for. And what is that?
Why, entertainment, of course! Entertainment is what the Emmys are all about. Sales results have no place whatsoever in the Emmy considerations. Sadly, many advertising-industry awards are no better. They, too, celebrate entertaining commercials that completely fail as advertising. Could it be that entertainment is just easier than selling?
“Wanna see my Emmy?”
Maybe it’s too much to ask that a brewery CEO not get all starry-eyed at the thought of being some kind of Hollywood player. Maybe he’s so desperate for any bit of good news, he’s giving no thought to the example he’s setting for the organization. Who knows? Maybe the Anheuser-Busch corporate leaders actually think they are in the entertainment business!
Somewhere in the organization – one can only hope – there remain folks who know exactly what business they’re in.
To read more from Hey Beer Dan visit his website: http://www.plzdontletbuddie.com/