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Posted 13 September 2009

Honestly, do you read blogs? Like regularly. Or occasionally? Irrespective of who is writing them? I view the so-called “citizen journalism” with some scepticism, believing that only trained journalists can understand the exactitude and ethics involved in reporting news.

But I admit I enjoy reading the lager-heads’ blog at www.stltoday.com which acts as a kind of blogosphere watchdog on what AB-InBev get up to in the United States.

If you have been following events on the Web, you will remember that a veritable blogstorm descended on InBev (also variously called InBred or InBarf) when they took over American icon Anheuser-Busch for USD 52 billion last summer.

The man at the centre of feverish outrage was CEO Carlos Brito, immediately branded an enemy of the people because of his reputation as a no-frills, no-thrills severe cost-cutter.

Had he been a politician, Mr Brito would have been told by his advisors a year ago to assign a handful of nerdy young men to the task of blogging for him.

In the U.S., where everybody with internet access seems to be writing a blog or at least contributing to one, such a move would have made Web denizens take note: Taco-boy is really running a ballsy campaign to counter the slam against him.

Alas, during the A-B takeover proceedings, InBev only posted a series of quasi-journalistic interviews with Mr Brito and spindoctor Steve Lipin on their Web site and left it at that. In Leuven they probably thought: “Why should we care about some irreverent but mostly irrelevant American bloggers? Didn’t InBev make A-B’s shareholders very rich and very happy?”      

Perhaps it is because I happen to live in Mr Rumsfeld’s Old Europe that I sometimes wonder if the blogosphere really has an impact on real life. I mean if all the collected outrage that can be found on www.stltoday.com/blogzone/lager-heads/ really affected consumers and how they feel about long-cherished brands, surely people would stop buying AB-InBev products.

I fear, though, that Joe Six-Pack in the U.S. is not an avid reader of this blog. No reports have hit my side of the Atlantic yet that sales of Budweiser and Bud have declined dramatically since the brewer was taken over by “Bulgarians” (Brazilians, Belgians – why not Bulgarians, indeed?). There does not seem to be a direct correlation between vitriolic electronic anti-Budweiser diatribes and AB-InBev’s beer sales.

Guess what? This is exactly the argument Mr Brito’s entourage is using to justify their not doing anything about the blogosphere.

Initially, I thought Mr Brito would become the Obama of the brewing industry, using blogs, mass texting and online phone banks to inspire Britomania. After all, their campaigns coincided: Obama was running for President while Mr Brito was vying for ownership of A-B.

By the time Mr Brito took on A-B’s board, Obama’s campaign managers had already fine-tuned their strategies. All Mr Brito would have had to do was to learn from the best

When I saw Mr Brito’s first video post, I searched InBev’s site for leads as to where I could sign up for “Brito Mobile”. Surely A-B’s employees, distributors and suppliers would have been grateful for round-the-clock inspirational text messages?  Mr Brito texting “InBev cares about you”, or “Yes, we can” would have gone down well.

Imagine how relieved A-B’s workers would have been to read the following message from Mr Brito only seconds after he had secured Warren Buffett’s support: “We just made history. All of this happened because you at A-B gave your time, talent and passion to this company. All of this happened because of you. Brito."

Well, obviously none of these were sent out. In the end, Mr Brito managed to clinch the deal without webroots support.  

Perhaps business and politics are still two worlds apart. While bloggers have an undeniable influence on American politics beyond their own online culture, the viral (self-) marketing of business leaders Obama-style through blogs may yet have to catch on.

One thing is sure: Whatever the disgruntled A-Bs, the reluctantly InBeved and all the others writing under assumed names (including Brito’s – and these are always the funniest entries) have to rant and moan about – it cannot be without consequences.

I am convinced that no brand, no company, no CEO can afford that kind of negative publicity forever.

 

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