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Anheuser-Busch plans biggest beer giveaway ever to encourage vaccinations

June 7, 2021, 10:15 PM UTC

Call it a shot and beer combo. Anheuser-Busch, the company behind Budweiser, has partnered with the Biden White House to give every American a free beer if 70% of Americans are vaccinated with at least one shot by the Fourth of July. 

The giveaway is part of Biden’s push to reach a level of pre-Covid normalcy by Independence Day, an effort he’s calling an “all-American sprint.”

“Today we’re announcing a month-long effort to pull out all the stops to free ourselves from this virus,” the president said during a speech last week. “It’s going to take everyone: the federal government, the state governments and local, tribal, and territorial governments, the private sector and, most importantly, the American people to get to this 70% mark so we can declare independence from COVID-19.”

The effort includes partnering with companies to incentivize reluctant Americans to get their shot by promising giveaways and to spread information to certain demographics. If the goal is met, Anheuser-Busch will give every drinking-age American a beer if they upload a picture of themselves in their favorite drinking spot to Mycooler.com/Beer. The prize will come in the form of a $5 voucher for beer, seltzer, or non-alcoholic beverages.

The picture stipulation is meant to try to get more people into drinking and dining establishments, said the company. “We’d love people to get out and go to the neighborhood bar and restaurant, or a ballgame, and start getting out to the hospitality sector. Because they need it there,” said Cesar Vargas, chief external affairs officer at Anheuser-Busch.

The company has had an ongoing dialogue with the Biden administration and has coordinated with both Biden and former President Donald Trump on other efforts: In February, Budweiser skipped airing a Super Bowl commercial for the first time in 37 years and instead “reallocated the media investment” to partner with the Ad Council and raise vaccine awareness. And in April the company pledged to give away 10,000 beers to Americans who could show proof of vaccination. But the July 4 giveaway would be the company’s largest in history. 

“It’s gonna be a huge effort,” said Vargas. “We’ve done beer giveaways before but never at this scale.” He said they’re also not sure what to expect in terms of demand. 

“We obviously gave that a great amount of thought before we made an announcement. The conclusion that we came to is that it’s not a cost. It’s an investment. It’s an investment in our recovery. It’s an investment in our communities. And it’s an investment in our country. And if you start thinking about it in those terms, then the numbers are going to take care of themselves,” said Vargas.

At $5 per American over 21 (and about 220 million adults in the country), Anheuser-Busch could be spending hundreds of millions to supply the country with beer. But considering that the average coupon redemption rate is between 1% and 5%, it’s unlikely to leave too large of a dent in their coffers.

He does expect to have a better idea of what that investment will actually cost Anheuser-Busch as the country gets closer to that 70% mark. “We’re working aggressively with our marketing team and in our network here to make sure we’re ready for that moment. But we’ve done this on much smaller scales before, so we kind of know what to expect,” he said. 

The rollout has already earned the company a large amount of free press in major publications and on news programs, multiple mentions by the White House, and potentially (if the goal is reached), a large number of Americans trying their products for the first time. Google searches for Anheuser-Busch jumped significantly when the announcement was first made.

Meanwhile, skeptics argue that giveaways haven’t been that effective in driving vaccine-reluctant Americans to get the shot. Lotteries, say economists, are much more tempting. The idea of a chance at $1 million, no matter how unlikely, is more motivating than a $5 gift card for beer, said Richard Thaler, a Nobel Prize winning economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Still, it’s about getting information out around the country, not just the free beer, claims Anheuser-Busch.

The company is also working with the White House to launch an aggressive ad campaign marketing the giveaway. Using data provided by the Biden administration, they’ll focus their efforts on areas with lower-than-average vaccination rates with digital and social advertising, television and radio spots, and billboards. Ads will also be tailored to different regions, depending on local vaccination rates. 

About 63% of adults in the U.S. have received at least one shot and the country is currently on track to meet Biden’s July 4 goal—so long as the current pace of vaccinations holds. That’s a big if though, considering that demand for the shot has decreased in recent weeks. The rate of vaccination is also inconsistent around the country. A recent analysis found that even if the 70% vaccination goal is met nationwide, there could still be as many as 30 states that fall below the threshold. A dozen states have already met or surpassed the goal and another 10 are just below it. Others are lagging: Alabama, Mississippi, Wyoming, and Louisiana are all below 50%. 

The Biden administration and local governments are hoping that incentives like giveaways and lotteries will push the needle higher. CVS recently announced a contest for vaccinated people to win cruises, Super Bowl tickets and other prizes. Ohio launched a lottery to give away $1 million to five vaccinated adults and full scholarships to public colleges to five teenagers. New York and California have announced similar contests. West Virginia, meanwhile, will give away custom guns as a vaccine incentive.

Biden, meanwhile, is doing his part to promote the giveaways. “That’s right, get a shot and have a beer,” Biden, a teetotaler, said last week. “Free beer for everyone 21 years and over to celebrate the independence from the virus.”

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