CHESTERFIELD, MO: Neil Caskey, VP of comms at the National Corn Growers Association, was settled in and expecting a relaxing Super Bowl Sunday.
Instead of a "peaceful night," what he got was a sticky situation.
"Shortly after I turned the TV on, that all changed," said Caskey. "I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy the game at that point in time."
The National Corn Growers Association has a bone to pick with Bud Light after the beer brand’s Super Bowl LIII commercial slammed rivals Miller Lite and Coors Light for including corn syrup in their beers’ ingredients.
In the medieval-themed ad, a massive barrel of corn syrup is accidentally delivered to the Bud Light castle, forcing the king of the realm -- a known Bud Light fanboy -- to lug it to other castles owned by Coors and Miller to see where it really belongs. The message: Bud Light is not brewed with corn syrup.
The association, which represents 40,000 corn farmers nationwide, is a nonprofit with an internal comms team of five staffers handling its response.
"We don’t have this massive team sitting, monitoring the game, and waiting to strike when something happens," said Caskey. "Once we picked our jaws off the floor and realized our reputation took a massive hit, [our] small team got together to figure out what are we going to say and where are we going to say it? We took it one step at a time."
After Bud Light "made a claim insinuating that corn is a bad ingredient," particularly in a Super Bowl ad, the National Corn Growers Association realized it had to defend itself. The industry body also wanted to stand up for American corn farmers and reassert that it is a "great product," said Caskey.
"Corn is not a bad ingredient; it is used in many products," he said. "[Bud Light parent] Anheuser-Busch InBev uses corn in many of theirs. We think it is disingenuous to call out that ingredient for one product when they use corn in many others."
Shortly after Bud Light’s ad aired, the National Corn Growers Association posted a tweet voicing its disappointment on behalf of America’s corn farmers and inviting the beer company to discuss the benefits of corn.
.@BudLight America’s corn farmers are disappointed in you. Our office is right down the road! We would love to discuss with you the many benefits of corn! Thanks @MillerLight and @CoorsLite for supporting our industry. https://t.co/6fIWtRdeeM— National Corn (NCGA) (@NationalCorn) February 4, 2019
Meanwhile, corn farmers have been angrily tweeting about Bud Light’s commercial. One, Kevin Ross, posted a video of himself dumping a can of the beer down the sink in protest.
Anheuser-Busch said in a statement that it "fully supports corn growers and will continue to invest in the corn industry."
"Bud Light’s Super Bowl commercials are only meant to point out a key difference in Bud Light from some other light beers," the company said. "This effort is to provide consumers transparency and elevate the beer category."
One of Anheuser-Busch’s lobbyists has reached out to the National Corn Growers Association and said it wants to discuss the ad and how the company supports corn. The organization has a conversation scheduled with Anheuser-Busch InBev on Monday afternoon.
"We want to find out why they picked this brand to cast all of corn in a nasty light," said Caskey. "We are giving them an opportunity to prove they support corn farmers and demonstrate that they are good corn customers."
The corn association is headquartered in Chesterfield, Missouri. However, Caskey and his team flew to Denver on Monday to have a "corn action team meeting," which had been planned before the Super Bowl, to plan the next year. MillerCoors, coincidentally headquartered in Denver, invited the corn association to meet after the Bud Light ad aired.
Caskey said his team is having an internal meeting to figure out what happened and the next steps.
"The Super Bowl is the biggest stage in the world, so there should be a level of expectation that any commercial that appears [during] it has some degree of honesty and integrity," he said. "We didn’t feel that was the case with this Bud Light ad. Hopefully we can work with them to correct that."