Purpose-Washing at the Super Bowl? Big Beer Goes Non-Alcoholic

Thanks to Anheuser-Busch’s relinquishment of category exclusivity this year, alcohol advertisers will be pouring into Super Bowl LVII spots for the first time in decades. Among them will be Heineken, which plans to peddle its non-alcoholic (NA) beer, Heineken 0.0, with a 30-second, $7 million spot.

No doubt, the move signals a heating-up of competition in the NA beer space. But it also poses the question: Is this the first of what will be many efforts by big-brand beer labels to purpose-wash their market grabs within the NA sector?

Big Brands, Big Influence

Heineken says its NA advertising play is “about making moderation normal, useful and cool” and “educating consumers and creating a category.” Encouraging moderation and sober lifestyles in earnest serves a greater purpose, one with significant potential to improve the health and lives of countless people. But it’s questionable whether that idea is motivating beer companies looking to stake their claim in the NA category. More than anything, these companies want their branding to proliferate throughout that category—branding that, at its core, all points the consumer back to alcohol.



If you need proof that these NA beers are nothing more than a product line extension for alcohol companies, look no further than the product labeling itself:




Not every sober-curious individual is going to reach for an NA beer, and Heineken, Sam Adams, Anheuser-Busch and all the other beer brands have the distribution and shelf space to make sure alcoholic alternatives are always within reach when a given person is trying to decide what kind of night (and next morning) they’d like to have.

True Focus Breeds True Purpose

The piling of big beer labels onto the NA growth curve wouldn’t be an issue if there wasn’t already  a strong base of companies exclusively focused on the NA category: brands like Athletic Brewing, Bravus and Grüvi. These are brands that have built their businesses around changing behavior and giving consumers true alternatives to alcoholic beverages.

It used to be shameful for a consumer to choose a NA beer. But not anymore. It’s empowering—and we have the NA-dedicated brands to thank for that. Now, the alcohol brands want to capitalize on that shift.

Of course, big brewers have the financial capabilities to buy Super Bowl ads that drive more awareness for the NA space. This will aid in overall growth of the NA market—but at what cost? In owning the messaging around NA beer, these companies could overshadow the true purpose that drives the NA-dedicated breweries.

If the NA movement is to translate into true societal change for the better health of all, it needs to be led by the brands with true interest in seeing that change come to fruition. In that regard, companies like Athletic Brewing need to broaden their purviews beyond speaking to the active consumer market. Their micro-influencer campaigns and triathlon sponsorships have been tremendously successful in driving a grassroots NA movement. Now it’s time to get louder.

Heineken might be bringing visibility to the NA category at this year’s Super Bowl. But the NA category at large must work to ensure that this attention can be directed toward a much larger purpose-driven push to improve lives.

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