As the Pope Emeritus recalled “joy and choppy waters” during his papacy, the King of Beers seems to be fermenting in a similar state of affairs as beer drinkers in the U.S. have filed a $5 million lawsuit accusing Anheuser-Busch InBev for deceptive practices–watering down its beer. As the lead lawyer, Josh Boxer put it, “Our information comes from former employees at Anheuser-Busch, who have informed us that, as a matter of corporate practice, all of their products mentioned [in the lawsuit] are watered down.”
The accusations state they have expert witness testimony and the suit involves 10 beers including Budweiser and Michelob, claiming consumers have been cheated out of the alcohol content stated on the labels because A-B InBev added additional water to produce beers with significantly lower alcohol contents. A-B InBev called the claims “completely false” and flatly repudiates the accusations, responding with corporate-sanctioned statements such as “We proudly adhere to the highest standards in brewing our beer…our beers are in full compliance with labeling laws.”
The relationship between A-B InBev and the consumer is a contract of trust that will clearly have been broken if found guilty of the charges. Even if it is not, there will still be a long hangover. Why? Today, most organizations commonly refer to the meaning of share in terms of market share, profit share, revenue share and share of wallet, among other things. What they often foolishly overlook, however, is that they are also competing with other brands and organizations for share of trust.
A recent study by the Corporate Executive Board on what helps consumers and buyers make quicker brand purchasing decisions boiled it down to three key triggers. The findings revealed three key factors that all brands should heed to protect against rapid brand deterioration.
Trust is the first trigger, and if consumers do not trust A-B InBev then they are not going to buy and recommend their brands. The second trigger is based on the consumer’s knowledge of the brand. If product dilution is revealed, consumers might seek out alternatives. A-B InBev needs to assess their shared values with employees and consumers, for without non-financial goals, the ship is rudderless. Consequently A-B InBev’s potentially unsavory course of conduct reveals that it clearly needs a new system so as to reinsert a sense of shared values and trust with the consumer. However, the success of this PR “clean up” is not about the skills of brewing; it’s about attitudes, and those start at the top. A-B InBev – if found to be “guilty” of this subterfuge – has no option but to fire those responsible, and clearly succession plans will be essential from the top down to win back credibility and rekindle trust.