Black Crown: The Mysterious Elitism of Budweiser’s Beer Ad

Budweiser’s new “Black Crown” beer is for connoisseurs, the chic, and the style conscious. That’s the real message behind a new ad and information campaign by a brand associated with football, regular bars, and the average guy. It’s not for him. It’s for his altogether classier friend. The one that left the small town, and is now “working hard and playing hard” in some far off megatropolis.

The inclusion of “crown” in the title may not be an entirely good idea. Have you noticed how the cheapest products in any category often use either “crown” or “royal” in their name? (No offense to the cheap but ever so cheerful Canadian whisky, Crown Royal.)

Budweiser Black Crown ad
Not your usual lager drinkers; scenes from Budweiser’s new Black Crown ad.

Preempting any negative associations with “crown,” though, is “black” — a word that is, in consumer culture, often associated with quality, the elite, the exclusive, and, moreover, the secret and the mysterious — black tie, black book, etc. You get the picture.

In the ad, we see a woman strolling, model catwalk-like, into a chic, modern restaurant-type setting, with a long banquet table in the center. We don’t really get a good look at her. But she’s wearing a short, black and gold dress, and carrying two bottles of Black Crown (the packaging of which is also black and gold).

She strolls passed a number of attractive people seated at the table; men and women, all in the same color scheme. There is something a bit Goth about some of them. It’s a bit like a much modernized, and cooler scene from Joris-Karl Huysmans’ novel Against the Grain that describes the anti-hero eating a meal of black food, in a black room with other noir trappings.

What’s so interesting about the ad is it’s mixed message (or to put it more cerebrally, the esoteric message of the imagery that runs contrary to the more usual Budweiser verbal message): While a voiceover tells us that this was the lager “chosen by the people,” the people present (and who rise to their feet to toast with bottles of Black Crown in the hands at this suggestion) represent an elite.

They may be a slightly artistic, slightly consumer conscious, and even slightly vampiric-chic elite, but they are an elite nonetheless.

Budweiser wants obviously to attract the upscale consumer. But it knows, too, that invoking “the people” not only makes the brand seem humane, but can appeal to an elite, whose identity, in the twenty-first century, is not in conquering nations (such as occurred with Europe’s old emperors and the cliques about them), but in identifying with the suffering of those less fortunate.

Whether one sees this — capturing the essence of contemporary culture, cynical, or merely contradictory — we like the aesthetics of the ad, nonetheless.

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