About that Brewers Association approach to buy AB-InBev

The Brewers Association, the trade group behind the Great American Beer Festival, today launched a tongue-in-cheek marketing ploy to crowdfund a $213 billion takeover of the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The Denver-based group, of which MillerCoors is a member, is calling the campaign “Take Craft Back,” though the group does not make clear how, or if, it was lost. A website set up to support the effort makes clear it doesn’t intend to actually buy ABI even as it continues the war of words against so-called “Big Beer.” A video on the site says “Big Beer” wants “to rob you of the power of choice; they want to muscle us out.”

Shares of ABI were unaffected by Brewers Association’s overture, closing up 0.3 percent on the New York Stock Exchange, largely in line with the overall market.

Using the website TakeCraftBack.com to solicit unsecured “pledges” that range from $10 to $1,000, the Brewers Association says it is targeting ABI because it “represents the biggest — and the most powerful — of Big Beer.” It notes later that such pledges only will be collected after all $213 billion has been raised.

In the infinitely unlikely event it did raise the cash (which, again, it’s not really trying to do), there are plenty of unanswered questions.

For instance, would the Brewers Association allow ABI products, such as Budweiser or Bud Light, to carry its “certified independent craft” seal on its packaging? Would it allow ABI to sponsor the Great American Beer Festival or occupy a coveted end-cap space at the event? Further, such an acquisition would create uncertainty over which breweries would be allowed to participate in the festival and throw into question the rules of participation.

As for whether a Brewers Association-owned ABI would be able to brew “craft beer,” well, you get the picture.

Although the BA says it doesn’t expect to collect from donors who “pledged” to the campaign, it does promise a delivery of branded “swag” within four weeks to those who register on its website. “We have no doubt that your pledge, and all the others like it, has Big Beer quaking in their custom-made Italian loafers,” the association says in an email to those who sign up.

Gemma Hart, an Anheuser-Busch InBev spokeswoman, says in an e-mail: "We can take a joke!"

"While the fake money for this campaign 'piles' up, we will keep focusing our donations on giving back to communities across our country," she says, ticking off charitable causes ABI has supported this year.

Pete Marino, president of the MillerCoors craft division Tenth and Blake, does not wear custom-made Italian loafers. But, he says, “If the number of inbound calls that we are getting is any indication, more and more independent craft brewers are open to the idea, or at the very least exploring their options to partner with a large brewer or financial partner.”

Further, he adds, “maybe the BA should start by buying a few craft companies and see what kind of interest they get.”

Marino, who oversees MillerCoors craft acquisitions Revolver, Terrapin, Saint Archer and Hop Valley, recently told a group of MillerCoors distributors that the company  will continue to explore partnerships with craft breweries, provided their location or beer style complement the company’s existing portfolio and their valuation is realistic.

Through a representative, the Brewers Association did not respond to a request for comment. BA President and CEO Bob Pease did speak with the trade publication Craft Business Daily (subscription required), saying the trade group “does have high hopes for raising the equivalent of about 28 bucks from every person on the planet. We think this bold crowdfunding approach is right in line with the craft brewing community we represent, which as you know has never shied away from taking risks.”

Pease’s hyperbolic overture aside, the goal of any marketing campaign, of course, is to generate ink. Or pixels, as it were. In that, the Brewers Association has succeeded.