Saturday, June 25, 2016

"Drink Our Beer, or I'll Kill You."

That's not what the commercial actually said....but it was the impression that most people got from the once great Schlitz Beer's last attempt to "stay alive."

Living proof that the US Government is NOT the only bureaucracy that can turn massive success into complete failure in almost no time at all.

Coke tried...and almost did it.

But the number ONE selling beer in the entire country tried it.....and SUCCEEDED spectacularly!

Their sad story is now studied in Business Schools as example of "What NOT to do."

Without getting into the "weeds"......Schlitz started out in a Milwaukee restaurant by a man named Joseph Schlitz in 1856. He was drowned on a voyage back to Germany when his ship struck rocks  and sank in 1875. Control of the brewery was inherited by August Uilein and his three brothers.  The brewery prospered considerably under them, springing back after Prohibition and in the 1940s became the best-selling beer in the United States wresting that title from their chief rival, Anheuser Busch Budweiser beer.

Schlitz stayed  number one until 1957.

Then, Budweiser went ahead.

Robert Uihlein Jr. Schlitz CEO

To cope, the Uihlein family (relatives of one of the founders)  began small measures, at first, to cut costs, then others in order to reduce "brewing time."  No one noticed at first, but as the company got braver and began to take more cost saving "shortcuts," their customers began to notice. They kept on "salami slicing" their beer until the public did notice. And the end became unstoppable.

Their last ditch effort was an advertising campaign featuring  an aggressive looking actor "daring" people to "Take away my gusto."

Instead of amusing customers, it turned them off.  It became to be called "the drink Schlitz, or I'll kill you" campaign.

The once great American Beer is now in the dustbin of history.  Or, to be technically correct, it might as well be.

A Detroit company, Stroh Beer, actually bought what was left of Schlitz in 1982 for 500 million dollars.  But the debt was too much for the small Detroit company to absorb, and they went belly up not long afterward.

Pabst finally wound up owning the Schlitz name and I understand are brewing Schlitz using the original formula.

But, in my opinion, it's too late to try to put Humpty Dumpty, or "The Beer that made Milwaukee Famous"........ back together again.

-Ed