In a fitting metaphor for the country’s national anxiety, a former cultural icon that peaked in the 1950s and was taken over by multinational interests in the 21st century is now called “America.”
Until the November 2016 election, Budweiser will replace its own name with the country’s, spelled out in the familiar blue cursive. Summer is the best-selling season for beer—about one-third of all U.S. sales are between Memorial Day and Labor Day—and Budweiser has bedecked its cans with the American flag and the Statue of Liberty for several years. In recent Super Bowls, the company has taken pains to remind viewers just how much it loves its country. Domestic drinkers are perhaps just a few years a way from a special-edition Bud brewed “with bits of home-spun American flag.”
This year’s can is bumper-stickered with national cheer. The “King of Beers” slogan has been swapped out for “E Pluribus Unum,” or “Out of Many, One,” which is a fitting slogan for the brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV, a multinational corporation headquartered in Belgium and named after an American and Brazilian beer company. “We thought nothing was more iconic than Budweiser and nothing was more iconic than America,” said Tosh Hall, creative director at the beer can’s branding firm JKR, eliding the beer’s more cosmopolitan roots.
The third-most-popular beer in America, Budweiser sells about 100 million cases each year, more than Yuengling, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Busch, and Heineken, combined. This summer, the beer company wanted to remake its can to seize on the next few months’ compelling competitions—the Olympics and the U.S. presidential election.
It would be one thing to report that Budweiser’s move—simultaneously funny, cynical, knowing, and absurd—is wasteful re-lettering. But there is some evidence that patriotic branding around international sports event swells the hearts of consumers. Surveys collected during the 2006 FIFA World Cup and 2008 Olympics found that “consumers’ patriotism during international mega-sporting events significantly increases their involvement in those events, and that heightened level of patriotism … positively influences their attitudes towards patriotic advertising.”
If beer drinkers are as interested in this rebranding as people on Twitter, one should anticipate a summer of excruciating quips, including but not limited to: “is there any America left?” “this America is for you," “my America went bad,” “America is in the trash,” “nobody puts America in the trash,” “America is ice cold right now,” “America goes down [dramatic pause] smooth,” and “I’m offended that the Belgian multinational that produces Budweiser thought the U.S. wants explicit credit for the taste of its beer.”
Budweiser’s move raises the question of why other companies haven’t joined the patriotic arms race. The word “America” probably cannot be trademarked: Common phrases that receive trademarks, like “Just Do It,” require secondary meanings as the result of specific usage. Trademarking a word like “America” is like trademarking any other ubiquitous phrase, like “good morning,” or “yes, thank you,” or “you have to see Hamilton.”
That hasn’t stopped a few super-patriotic people from trying. There is one presidential candidate in U.S. history who has tried to trademark a phrase that uses the country’s name. That phrase? Make American great again. America does go down smooth, after all.