New AB-Inbev funded ‘Craft Beer Review Site’ Can it be Impartial?

SAMSON v. Goliath

I have to admit events of the past week or so have been a serious distraction. It’s a little difficult to think about beer when the country appears headed for a Constitutional crisis. The first two weeks of the Trump era have been a wild ride.

Scanning my inbox and social media for beer-related news, I discovered our old friends at Anheuser-Busch are up to no good. You won’t want to miss their new ad, set to run during the Super Bowl, which uses a pile of alternative facts to depict the brand’s early history. Bizarre waste of money.

Then I learned of AB’s latest excursion into the craft beer world. This time, they’ve funded a blog covering beer and the beer industry. Actually, funding for the venture comes through a creative intermediary that is backed by Anheuser-Busch. That makes the connection a little less obvious.

Honestly, I haven’t read through enough of the site’s content to give it any kind of objective review. But you can find a pretty good (and funny) beatdown here. Some of my colleagues in the local beer writing community have commented, mostly not in a good way.

You see the problem, right? Any publication that is funded, directly or indirectly, by the world’s largest beer company is going to have a perception problem. Keep in mind that in the wake of MegaBrew, Anheuser-Busch is far and away the most dominant player in the beer world.

And here they are financing a site that covers beer. Why would they want to do that? I’d say they want a place at the table. They’re certainly aware that there are hundreds of more or less independent blogs, many of which don’t provide very favorable coverage of AB initiatives and brands. This blog, for starters. They’d like to have a voice.

The challenge for the new site, which I mentioned to a gent involved in the venture on Facebook, is there will be the perception of potential conflict of interest regardless of what they cover. His response is they intend to make the AB connection clear (we shall see) and are focused strictly on good coverage. Fine. But the connection to Anheuser-Busch is a huge issue. At least for me.

The good news for AB and for the folks launching the new site is the average craft beer consumer, in contrast to well-informed beer geeks and writers, doesn’t pay that much attention to who owns brands and finances websites with beer-related content.

In fact, the average craft beer consumer very often has no interest in these issues. There are plenty of people who are just fine ordering Goose Island in a bar or buying 10 Barrel in a grocery store. They don’t want to be bothered with the details of why it might not be a great idea to give their money to the world’s beer behemoth.

My guess is the new blog will benefit from that same mindset. A majority of people who read blogs aren’t beer geeks. They’re simply out there surfing for information. When they come upon the site, most won’t know or care that there’s a potential conflict of interest in the coverage.

Indeed, consumer ambivalence is exactly what Anheuser-Busch is counting on. They’ve been counting on it with their brewery acquisitions, with their fake craft brands and now with the new blog. This is strictly business as usual for them.

-Pete Dunlop

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