Stealing Share's Analysis and advice

Beer Rebranding. Only Way to Win

March 17, 2023

An in-depth market study on the beer rebranding and the category

This beer rebranding market study is over five years old. Much has changed since then. Check out our latest look at the current beer market here.

We decided to keep this article on our site so that readers can read firsthand the changes in the beer category. 

beer rebrandingA beer rebranding market study? Yup.

The beer market is rife with new entries and the repositioning of long-standing beer brands. It’s time for someone to step up to the plate; call a spade a spade.

There is very little difference between beer brands. Are there marked differences in beer-style brands? Not so much. Understanding the market truth about beer rebranding is the key to success. Let’s be fair.

All the beer brands have relied on the emotional foundations of brands to elicit loyalty and trial.

In blind taste tests conducted by Resultant Research (our market research arm), no one can tell the difference in tastes beyond randomness.

Microbrews are part of this beer rebranding market study

The microbeer market is growing at a fantastic rate. But the manufacturers (brewers) believe the secret to their success relies on great taste.

Beer market Microbrews

Every successful brand needs to salute a great product. You will never be a successful beer brand if you don’t make a well-crafted product. It is a table stake in the category. When was the last time you heard someone at a bar tell the bartender,

“That was a terrible-tasting beer? Might I have another, and while you’re at it, buy a round for the bar”? Of course, we like the brand of beer we drink.

Emotional Impact

Don’t underestimate a brand association’s emotional impact on our personal choices. And its influence on beer rebranding.

Every beer drinker brings something to the party.

They bring their expectations to the brand experience. Successful brands manage that expectation. That is brand management.

The Beer Franchises

The Budweiser franchise gets it. But they must start looking at the entire franchise, not the singular sub-brands. Budweiser may be dipping, but Bud Light is healthy.

Think of light beers as a style, not a brand.

Not so different from a Pale Ale. Understanding that dynamic is a defense of why Budweiser spends so much energy and cash on television campaigns.

Fragmentation. Beer rebranding market study

The beer market is increasingly fragmented. More players are dividing a shrinking base. If you think it is easy to create a consistent product on the scale of Budweiser, think again.

It is immensely challenging. It is science. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Start at the beginning

beer rebrandingLet’s start our beer rebranding market study here. Consider this. When Belgium-based AB InBev bought Budweiser in 2008, we posed the question. Will it make a difference to American beer drinkers?

The Budweiser brand is Americana. “I’ll have a Bud” is as much a part of the American vocabulary as “Bless you.” This beer rebranding market study will look at that prediction.

It will also pose a new prediction or two about the future of the beer market. That was right and slightly off. We have a prediction to consider in the domestic beer industry.

What we got right, what we got wrong

We’ll concentrate on the influential US Lager brands: Budweiser, Miller, and Coors.

Where we are right: Budweiser did drop a few points in market share, falling under the “monopoly” threshold of 50%, down to 46.4% in 2015. Budweiser includes all the BUD brands.

The market share of Budweiser itself fell to third place in 2018. However, Coors Light took advantage, recently passing

Bud as the nation’s second best-selling beer behind Bud Light. Bud Light still dominates with double the market share of Coors Light.

But this represents a change in style preference rather than a beer preference. Regarding American lager, Americans prefer light beer—end of story.

Is this a call for a significant beer rebranding? We think so.

Budweiser will come back

Here is a prediction for this beer rebranding market study. Budweiser will make a comeback. Bud still holds more than twice the market share of its nearest competitor, Miller.

But there’s something about A.B. InBev’s history that suggests it can reverse the trend.

The entire alcoholic beverage market

beer rebrandingOf course, there are other issues. The industry is losing its share to wine and spirits. Sales of spirits rose to 37.8% in 2019, while beer has stayed at 45.2%. Wine is a flat line of 17%.

Beer revenue in 2020 is US$587,362m. Spirits and wine are getting more aggressive in their marketing. There are now T.V. spots for Yellow Tail wine, Tito’s Vodka, and 1800 Tequila. Advertising is no longer the sole domain of beer among alcohol marketers. (Read about beer marketing and differentiation here) Then there’s Molson and Coors.

(Below, we’ll look at the major brands, and these two certainly aim for Budweiser by joining forces in the U.S. market as Molson Coors).

Still, if a new trend emerges, Budweiser will remain the King of Beers. (Read about the critical market research that predicts behaviors)

Beer Rebranding Market Study Looks at Budweiser

No beer rebranding market study can ignore Budweiser. The purchase of Budweiser by A.B. InBev is cause for alarm.

So much of what Budweiser means to consumers is about being a hard-core American. Budweiser’s imagery often reflects that.

Coors Light will undoubtedly say it made strides through its “Cold Counts” campaign.

But we believe the introduction of A.B. InBev to the U.S. made Bud’s brand loyalty a little weaker for a time.

Because Bud has a heritage, years ago, and occasionally still, Budweiser was in full-on “dumb guy” mode with its advertising.

It created spots around twentysomethings searching for a great beer, often to comical effect.

Bud needed a change

That ploy was already getting old by 2008 because the competition went about copying it.

Bud Light hasn’t changed that approach all that much. But it – as we’ll see later – just means all similar ads feel like they are for Bud Light, even if Bud Light’s ad in January 2017 is just about buds.

Stella has meaning

Like many companies, A.B. InBev has its share of wins and losses. But one of its most successful is Stella Artois, which has grown 12.5% in sales in 2016 to become one of the perfect brands in the business.

Let’s list the reasons for Stella’s brand strength.

It has an identifiable brand equity marker in the shape of the glass.

Some of the most effective billboards have shown just the Stella beer in the Stella glass. Say nothing more.

Why Stella is different than Budweiser

beer rebrandingStella beer rebranding market study within a company as large as A.B. InBev, with operations in more than 30 countries, the same folks guiding the Stella brand are not the same ones driving Budweiser.

But there was an interesting take during a Super Bowl when Budweiser focused on heritage.

It hit the A.B. InBev dilemma (both the positive and the negative) head-on. Budweiser (the entire brand portfolio) is still the market leader in the U.S. and globally. It can change the direction of its falling sales by tapping into what has made it one of the most potent brands over recent decades.

Its Bud Light is still going strong and will continue to stay on top until the competition does something different and more meaningful.

Stella has taken its place among beer royalty in the U.S. market.

Miller (or should we say Miller/Coors)

Continuing this beer rebranding market study, know this. No one has copied the Bud Light tone more than Miller, and it failed to increase its market share. A few years ago, every beer ad centered around a “dumb guy.”

There were, in a way, much like anything from Bud Light. Coors isn’t much better, but at least it has a claimed value.

Whether it’s believable or truly differentiating is another question.

Most center around a party or bar with great-looking girls and guys willing to do anything for Brand X beer in Judd Apatow-Seth Rogan-Jackass fashion.

Bud Light has owned that position, but the major competitors just copied it, thinking, “If it works for Bud Light, it’ll work for us.” It doesn’t work that way, however.

Copying the market leader never works

When you copy the market leader, the consumer simply defaults to the market leader.

For example, we’ve done studies showing a series of ads – inserting a “dumb guy” beer ad in the mix and then asking, “Who was the beer ad for?”

Invariably, the answer is Budweiser, whether it was or not.

What do beer drinkers think?

Beer rebrandingToday, as a few beer brands move away from that thinking, Miller is attempting something different.

Trying to build on its equity (it thinks) by telling audiences to “Hold True.”

But do the drinkers of other beers believe Miller Lite is authentic and, therefore, would switch?

This is especially problematic for Miller as this approach never really worked in the first place for those other than Bud Light.

Positioned as the most coveted beer – the underlying message in all of them – is ineffective.

Of course, my beer tastes good

Current beer drinkers already believe their beer is good. Why else are they drinking it?

Among all the major beer brands, Miller is the most in need of a brand overhaul. It lacks a unique and meaningful brand position.

If it doesn’t take those necessary and challenging steps to relevance, it will continue to lose market share.

Our beer rebranding market study looks at Coors

Coors is among the most interesting brands in this beer rebranding market study. The “cold” campaign of Coors Light has overtaken Budweiser as the nation’s second-most popular beer.

There are sure to be congratulations within the Molson Coors complex. But they should hold off the celebrating.

It was only a matter of time until a light beer passed the long-standing Budweiser.

The top four beer brands in the U.S. – and seven of the top 10 – are light beers, and Coors Light’s ascension mainly reflected the beer drinkers’ current taste.

What we see here is a trend, not a brand-creating preference.

What does cold mean?

beer rebrandingStill, it’s a fair question. Of all the light beers, why Coors? For one thing, the nearest challenger is Miller Lite, and, as we’ve seen, it is stuck finding a way to be more relevant.

Coors Light ads are identifiable as being from Coors Light when it holds the “cold” position.

Budweiser’s Natural and Busch Light are among the following three beers in market share (after Michelob Light).

But Bud uses them as fighter brands to keep others – such as Miller High Life – from growing.

Coors light is cold

The “cold” campaign may tap into how drinkers want their beer, but the problem is that it is a table stake, what you need to have to even play in the game.

You can make any beer cold – although having a can that tells you it’s cold is an excellent innovation (that the rest of the industry will soon copy). They position it against anything.

No one would claim “warm” beer, so “cold” is not a real choice. “Cold” feeds into Coors’ image of Colorado heritage but does not reflect who the consumer wants to be when they drink Coors.

It’s about the can of beer.

We attribute the rise of Coors Light because the market drinks more light beer, and the rest of the competition is still in branding flux.

There’s a simple reason for this, of course. Men are always the primary target audience for beer, and sports is a direct way to connect to what “maleness” beer brands often consider important.

Beer Imports

Like the beers in the U.S., those in the rest of the world stay pat in market leadership in their respective countries.

beer rebrandingFor example, while you might think Foster’s is the most popular beer in Australia, it’s not.

Victoria Bitter holds that honor; what might be most shocking to U.S. consumers is that Victoria Bitter has been that country’s most popular beer for over two decades.

The stability is because the brand promises, messages, and tone are not that different.

Dominant themes U.K.’s bonding (Canada’s Labatt Blue, U.K.’s Carling, Czech Republic’s Gambrinus, and Belgium’s Jupiter) along with racy tones (Brazil’s Skol), high lifestyle (Japan’s Asahi Super Dry), and even “cold” (Victoria Bitter) abound.

The status quo remains because beers are aping each other across the world, which leads to stagnation in the market.

Therefore, long-time market leaders stay there while the competition slips, trying to climb the ladder.


Corona beer has a brand; however, there are exceptions to that lack of brand focus among light beers.

Corona Extra is the real mover in this market space because Corona has a definite brand – “Find Your Beach” – that looks and feels different than anyone else in the market.

Corona has been the best-branded beer in the U.S.


Labatt (What beer rebranding market study is complete without it?)

Take, for example, this Labatt Blue ad. It’s no different in tone and usage than any advertisement in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Labatt’s familiar tone and the message are consistent with A.B. InBev. A.B. InBev, which also now owns Budweiser. But AB InBev also owns Stella Artois. Still, the beer industry is becoming increasingly incestuous.

Molson owns Coors and Carling. But Fosters owns Victoria Bitter. Cross-pollination equals repeated themes.

For example, Budweiser, Miller, and Coors have sports-specific ads. So do the ones in Europe, such as this one from Belgium’s Jupiter.


For those who can’t read German, the theme line is “Men Know Why.”

That isn’t far from Carling’s “You know who your mates U.S.”


The problem, as in the U.S., is that every beer takes that strategy.

The tactic by itself is acceptable. It’s just like everything else in beer marketing. When that happens, brands all start to run together in the minds of consumers.

The brands with the most meaning step out of the usual beer comfort zone.

It does not matter if it’s a U.S. domestic or an import, Corona, Stella Artois, Guinness, and Heineken, to a lesser extent.


Guinness is an exciting brand. Sometimes, they reach into the coveted brand territory. Other times not so much.

The best Guinness branding campaign featured the equity line “the beer you have been practicing for. The new campaign speaks of the stout’s rich and full heritage.

The campaign works on a couple of levels and powerfully embraces the brand’s heritage.

The beer rebranding market study summary

Overall, beer sales were down by 2% in 2019. This is how the beer situation stands: Budweiser is still the market leader (both nationally and globally).

Here are some figures of market share from the USA today in 2017.

However, it has lost some market share after the A.B. InBev purchase. Coors Light has made inroads, and Miller continues to flounder, while spirits are taking market share away from the beer category.

Craft beers

The category is rising, with market share at 13.6.%, as these “serious” beer drinkers consider the big American lagers a waste of time. Craft beer consumption is growing by 4% annually.

Mostly from taproom proliferation. Craft beers, however, don’t steal market share from each other.

What we haven’t mentioned in this beer rebranding market study is the elephant in the room: Craft beers.

The category itself is rising, with market share at 12.3%, as these “serious” beer drinkers consider the big American lagers a waste of time.

There are several reasons for this increase. The number of breweries has grown, and the increased distribution of craft beers to bars nationwide has helped lift the category.

Some of the craft beer giants

Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, Fat Tire (Stealing Share worked on the New Belgium beer brand), 90-minute IPA, Anchor Steam, and not many others to mention all share many of the same values.

They compete for the same shelf space and grow market share by launching flanker brands and styles.

Craft is it all about distribution?

They rely on distribution and their packaging and name appeal to gain acceptance. (There is, for example, a beer called Moose Drool. And it’s not bad.)

We have done research and brand projects for clients in the beer industry, including some of the top craft beers. The brand face of the typical craft beer drinker is “new and different.”

We know what we speak about in this beer rebranding market study.

The usual craft beer drinker wants to try something new and different.

This is why they often drink local beer or something different than what they have been drinking.

Craft beer drinkers and loyalty

The problem for craft beers: Their drinkers are rarely brand loyal, unlike those who drink Bud, Coors, or Miller. The craft beer drinker is devoted to craft beers, not to one individual brand.

Because of that, individual craft beers rarely steal market share from others for an extended period. The same is true for the big three, although for different reasons. It’s not from Bud Light that Coors Light is getting its increased market share.

It’s from the middle crowd, such as Fosters or Michelob, dying and not light beers.

For such a mature and competitive category, the beer industry does little positioning against each other.

Instead, beers tend to copy each other. Miller Lite copies Bud Light. Some even remember that Heineken went the “cold” route a few years ago.

The beer brands aren’t working hard enough

That means the increases and decreases in the market tend to be for reasons other than brand.

Light beer is the dominant trend. Distribution is increasing for craft beers (as well as many imports).

There’s more choice. Spirits and wine are growing. The takeaway from this beer rebranding market study; is that the brand doesn’t move market share as it is now.

The art of brand, as it reflects who the customer aspires to be, is practiced by few.

A few winning beer brands

Only Corona, Stella, Guinness, and a handful of craft beers use a brand this way.

Budweiser is the standard-bearer of this art as a parent brand by beautifully playing its market leadership (read: heritage).

But it’s a new world in which beer faces more competitors and increased challenges from spirits and wine.

Beer rebrandingThe good news is that because, so few are practicing the art of branding correctly, there is an opportunity.

The one in the most trouble, Miller Lite, has the most significant opportunity.

The beer is carrying empty luggage. It can still fill it up, but time is wasted. It’s old ad language; it’s time for Miller to “find courage.”