While it’s doubtful that Ezra spent his childhood dreaming of being a spokes-musician for Bud, he takes a rational approach to how the relationship helps both him and the beer brand in their individual goals. Distilled to the basics, each helps bring credibility to the other. Budweiser gets to tap into a younger market and the adam ezra group can impress booking agents with an endorsement from a major sponsor.
Ezra speculates that the True Music effort is a clever way for Bud to engage a younger generation. “I think Budweiser has really capitalized on a huge segment of the beer drinking market. They’ve got NFL and NASCAR; I think the forty-year-old male sports fan is their niche. A huge segment of the younger population is choosing microbrews or local beers. It’s hip to be doing something that isn’t blasted all over the place, and [Budweiser] want to get in on that scene -- be part of this younger twenty- to thirty-year-old marketing dynamic. I think the way they decided to do that is to have ‘Bud bands.’ They would find some local acts that are attracting young listeners, appearing often in a very specific segment of the country, and they would just kind of subtly make sure that […] wherever this band was playing, Budweiser’s name would be there.”
The actual effort involved in representing Budweiser seems appropriately low key for a younger audience. “[Budweiser] wants it to be a real subtle promotional push,” Ezra explains. “If we’re on stage, and we’re drinking a beer, we’re drinking a Budweiser. And that’s about it. They put together some concert flyers that have Budweiser on them, and in exchange, they give us some good industry and playing opportunities. As well as they pass us a little money on the side.”
So how does one become a True Music band for Budweiser? Like most things in life it came to the adam ezra group through connections and serendipity. “You know, it’s interesting,” Ezra explains. “We were playing a local show in Boston and a woman that was working for them, happened to be at the show and she was really into the music. And afterwards she came up to me and said ‘You know, I work for Budweiser and they’re doing this promotion thing that I think you’d be perfect for. I want to give your name to my boss and see what he says. Then after one or two other people from Budweiser came to check us out, we had a couple phone conversations. We sent them some of our music. They took a look at our schedule, what kind of stuff we were doing around Boston and they decided to give it a shot.”
Budweiser’s contribution may not be financially huge, but it makes a big difference for a relatively young band as it struggles for recognition and credibility. Ezra appears to view the deal with a certain amount of rational appreciation. “The hardest thing for a young band starting out is to get publicity, to get into the papers, to get into magazines, to get on the radio. Because usually what you need is financial resources. Budweiser knew that and they said ‘You guys are still going to keep full autonomy over your music and we just want to come along for the ride, and in turn we are going to give you a little push with that publicity.’
“It does us good to be associated with their name -- for a young start-up band, to be suddenly sponsored or endorsed by a big corporation kind of brings a lot of legitimacy to the project. I feel it opened some doors that we were opening already, but it’s definitely helped. It’s just another resume builder, a feather in our cap. So when a visitor comes to the website for the first time, they hear a song and they think ‘Oh who is this?’ And then it’s like, ‘It’s the adam ezra group. They’re sponsored by Budweiser.’ I think it helps to build momentum for us.”
It may help with the established music industry but how does it play with the crowd? The very audience that Budweiser is seeking to reach might be turned off by a band that is plugging a big corporate brand.
Ezra admits it’s something he thinks about a lot. But he tries not to let that distract him from making the best of the opportunity to continue to promote his music -- which he feels is unchanged by the presence of a sponsor. “I feel like artistic integrity goes a long way -- especially in our specific market. So it was important to me when we were first approached by Budweiser that we wouldn’t have to change what we were doing. We wouldn’t have to play certain songs -- I did have a whole lot of reservations with them in the beginning. [But] they said ‘Listen we don’t want to control your music or what you do at all. We just want to be along for the ride.’ And that’s pretty much been the case.”
When it’s not the case, the band tries to make the most of the clash. “They sent us a Budweiser guitar that is this flaming electric-red guitar with Budweiser strewn across it that I think is pretty rough. If we ever use that, it’s for comic relief in our show,” says Ezra. “But I think it’s important to maintain a good presence of yourself, even when you are associated with a bigger corporate entity. It’s always going to be a struggle for any artist. If they want to get out there and get their music heard on a large scale, they are going to have to work with some big industry people that are going to want to be making money off them. So there is always going to be that kind of conflict. And I guess the key to us is to try to maintain as much artistic autonomy as we can while we’re doing it, and so far it’s working out.”
Whether Bud will continue the contract at the end of the year or even continue the True Music program remains to be seen. But the concept of being sponsored by a corporate entity appears to have taken hold: the band is looking for new sponsorship when their contract expires in May 2004.