What do the National Park Service (NPS) and Anheuser-Busch—the largest beer brewing corporation on the planet—have in common? They are both desperate to attract young people and bring in large amounts of cash.
That is the basis of a new $2.5 million "co-branding" partnership between the two entities—in what critics warn signals the ever-creeping "corporatization" of national parks.
Approved by NPS director Jon Jarvis in January, the deal comes with a considerable perk for the company, which brews Budweiser beer: a waiver of the agency's long-standing policy that prohibits association of the National Park Service with alcoholic beverages.
An internal NPS memorandum reveals that, instead, the two entities will focus on "aligning the economic and historical legacies of two iconic brands." The document, which was obtained by the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), states that both entities already share the "same goals surrounding relevancy, diversity, and inclusion."
So they will engage in "Co-branding with a goal of attracting a younger population to the NPS and the corporate brand," the document adds.
However, PEER executive director Jeff Ruch told Common Dreams that what is being called a "proud partnership" has much more to do with NPS eagerness to make corporate deals in a bid to raise $1 billion for its corporate endowment. "They appear to be saying yes to whichever corporation is willing to walk into their door," said Ruch.
The company, for its part, seems thrilled. Anheuser-Busch made a special Earth Day announcement that the partnership has inspired it to roll out some new advertising: "In celebration, Budweiser is rolling out limited-edition patriotic packaging featuring the iconic silhouette of Lady Liberty."
"We want to encourage a new generation of beer drinkers to get out there and see what America is made of," said Brian Perkins, vice president, Budweiser. "And where better than in America’s national parks? It’s fitting for Budweiser—a big, bold brand—to team up with a pioneering partner like [National Park Foundation]. We are looking to draw attention to these parks with our eye-catching packaging...as well as a pretty epic surprise concert this summer."
However, one piece of Budweiser advertising has already been catching people's eyes, and not in a good way.
The Bud Light advertising campaign heralding "The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night" attracted heated controversy over concerns that the company was, in fact, endorsing acts from sexual assault to drunk driving. While the company has since ceased the campaign, critics say that this does not mean the NPS is in the clear.
"Once it has gotten into bed with its corporate partner, the Park Service cannot pick and choose which market messaging it will embrace and which it will ignore," said Ruch. "It is both telling and troubling that the current Park Service leadership sees its core values best reflected in beer ads."