After a Bud Light ad put its members and the product they grow under attack, the National Corn Growers Association reacted quickly to protect its industry.
What’s an association supposed to do when a prominent beer company attacks its members’ product in a Super Bowl ad? The National Corn Growers Association found itself in exactly that position when Bud Light ran a Super Bowl ad disparaging corn syrup.
“We did not see this coming at all,” said Mark Lambert, NCGA’s communications director.
What surprised the association was a minute-long ad set in Medieval times. In the commercial, an enormous barrel of corn syrup is mistakenly delivered to Bud Light. The Bud Light Knight and some others then lug the barrel to competing brewers who use corn syrup in their beer.
NCGA’s swift response was a lesson in how associations can react when their industry and its members are attacked without notice.
.@BudLight America’s corn farmers are disappointed in you. Our office is right down the road! We would love to discuss with you the many benefits of corn! Thanks @MillerLight and @CoorsLite for supporting our industry. https://t.co/6fIWtRdeeM
— National Corn (NCGA) (@NationalCorn) February 4, 2019
Step one was NCGA quickly firing off a tweet during the broadcast that was simple and direct. According to Lambert, NCGA was able to jump on this so quickly because its CEO, as well as its board members, were able to get together and discuss the response while the game was happening.
NCGA was particularly miffed by the ad because they felt it was misleading. “It was a very disingenuous campaign,” Lambert said. “Budweiser uses corn syrup in a lot of their other brands. It was very misleading.”
And it wasn’t just NCGA that responded quickly and decisively to the ad. Corn farmers across America joined in the fray. Farmer Kevin Ross, who is also NCGA’s first vice president, tweeted a video of himself pouring Bud Light down the drain, while other farmers tweeted that they’d happily drink Miller Lite and Coors Light, the competing beers that use corn syrup.
The Iowa Corn Growers Association also decried the ad. “As a family farmer, I am disappointed that Bud Light chose to denigrate corn in their Super Bowl ad as part of a marketing scheme to attack their competition,” said ICGA Chairman Mark Recker in a statement.
Lambert noted that NCGA members are very proactive and their rapid response emerged naturally, not through NCGA prodding. “Much of what happened after that [ad aired] was organic,” he said. “Corn growers are family farmers. One thing they have discovered is they have to work together to make their voices heard.”
While no organization wants its members or industry to be singled out negatively in an ad, Lambert did offer advice for associations who must respond quickly to an unexpected attack. “Be honest in your response, and back up what you’re saying,” he said. “We tried to take the high road.”
After the controversy, Bud Light parent company Anheuser-Busch released a statement saying it “proudly supports farmers and the agricultural community.”
Lambert also said NCGA’s offer to meet with Bud Light to discuss corn products was accepted. “We are going to be meeting with them, and the intent is to find out what they were trying to accomplish. Who knows? Maybe something positive and productive will come out of this,” he said.