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Budweiser renamed its beer "America" because it’s no longer America’s beer

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Budweiser is taking rebranding to the next level this summer by renaming its beer "America."

And it doesn't stop there. According to Ad Age, which first announced the change, "King of Beers" will become "E Pluribus Unum." The text at the bottom of the can will read, "From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters this land was made for you and me." The bottled version will get a rebranding, too, which features the first lines of the Star-Spangled Banner at the top of the label.

If you were worried that an election featuring presumptive nominee Donald Trump would lack the requisite touch of the absurd, don't worry: The packaging will stay in place until November.

"We thought nothing was more iconic than Budweiser and nothing was more iconic than America," Tosh Hall, the creative director at branding firm JKR, told Fast Company, which is a sentence that might seem a little grandiose even coming from the mouth of Don Draper.

The campaign is Budweiser's plea for attention — and it's working. (You're reading this article, after all.) But the fact that it's needed at all shows how much American beer-drinking habits have altered in the past few decades. Tastes have changed several times, and each change has pushed Budweiser further down on America's list.

Americans are drinking a lot less Budweiser

Fifty years ago, nobody would have needed to make a grandiose statement that Budweiser — the "King of Beers" — was America's beer. It just was. In 1957, Budweiser, introduced 70 years earlier as the first nationally sold beer, was the best-selling beer in the world. It was the most popular beer in the United States until 1990.

But the original Budweiser beer has been losing market share since 1989, the victim of the rise of several different trends that changed what and how Americans drink:

  • The light beer trend: The first beer to surpass Budweiser as the most popular beer in America was Bud Light, introduced in 1982. Light beers — designed to appeal to health-conscious drinkers, but also promoted as "less filling" so you could drink more — quickly became the most popular beer type. Bud Light surpassed Budweiser as the bestselling beer in the US in in 2001. Coors Light and Miller Lite have also passed Budweiser on the charts.
  • The craft beer trend: Americans now drink more craft beer than Budweiser, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2014. Nearly half of 21- to 27-year-old beer drinkers have never had a Budweiser. And the market share of craft beer is climbing. AB InBev, the Belgium-based company that bought Anheuser-Busch in 2008, owns some of those "craft" beer brands (Blue Point, Goose Island, Kona), and remains the dominant beer in the US.
  • The drinking less beer trend: Americans aren't just drinking less Budweiser — they're drinking less, period. Alcohol consumption overall peaked in the US in 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and dropped steadily for 20 years before beginning to tick up in the 2000s as Americans got more interested in wine. Americans drank about 15 percent less alcohol in 2013 than in 1980, and almost 20 percent less beer. And while wine and spirits are getting more popular, beer-drinking is continuing to decline.

All this has added up to a tough market for Budweiser. Its rebranding isn't so much a tribute to America (and its beer-drinkers) as it is a desperate plea for America to start drinking it again.

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