This Presidential Debate Is Brought to You by Budweiser

Brian Steinberg

President Barack Obama once convinced two men at the center of a racial profiling controversy to resolve their differences over a few beers. One of the world’s biggest brewers is helping Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump explain their differences in close proximity to the very same thing.

Anheuser Busch InBev has since 1996 quietly sponsored the Presidential debates, but not in the way it might support a broadcast of “Saturday Night Live” or “Sunday Night Football.’’ TV viewers won’t see the famous logo of its flagship beverage, Budwieser, or funny commercials spotlighting its popular Bud Light. Instead, the brewer serves up beer and food in a biergarten on site at the debate venues, like Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. More often than not, A-B employees from the state hosting the event come to visit and tout local flavor and facilities.

“We feel really strongly about being part of American events,” said Doug Bailey. Anheuser Busch’s vice president of industry affairs.

Other marketers are working furiously to attach themselves to the debates, working up politically-themed TV commercials to help their pitches stick in viewers’ minds. Audi ran an ad on the first debate night showing two valets fighting to take command of an Audi RS 7. “Beautiful things are worth fighting for,” the ad said. “Choose the next driver wisely.” Web-services firm GoDaddy ran a TV commercial suggesting its “GoDaddy Guy” was on the campaign trail. “There is no other candidate that’s more affordable,” the character said in the spot.

Not Bud – even if a current ad campaign for Bud Light shows comic actors Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen acting as if they were political operatives weighing in on trending topics for “The Bud Light Party.”

Instead, Anheuser promotions take place behind the scenes. At Hofstra, where Trump and Clinton debated on September 26, Anheuser’s facility served between 2,000 and 3,000 people, according to the company, more than has been typical in the past.  Visitors could get a full lunch or dinner, but also meet with brewmasters and local employees, play a trivia game, and sample beers. Visitors were encouraged to promote their visit by using the hashtag #brewdemocracy or by making use of Snapchat filters.

On its face, the effort seems designed to get Anheuser’s name in front of some of the nation’s most influential operatives, as well as the media. The promotion “gives us a chance to get our brand out and remind people what we have going on in the United States,” noted Bailey, and showcase products and employees “ to an audience that certainly has the opportunity to tell stories,” but the ersatz restaurant “is not really government-affairs motivated.”

He declined to offer details on how much Aneheuser spent on its debate-related efforts, and a spokesperson for the Commission on Presidential Debates did not respond to a query seeking comment.

Anheuser was on the ground during the recent Vice President debate held in Farmville, Virgina, and expects to have a robust presence Sunday night, when the candidates meet at Washington University in St. Louis, MO – home to Anheuser’s U.S. operations. “We are taking what has historically been an exclusive event and sharing it with some of our customers and friends,” said Bailey.

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