business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

To a great degree, I thought I was done with this particular story - the controversy surrounding Bud Light's decision to broaden the brand's appeal by sending a swag bag to a transgender "influencer" named Dylan Mulvaney, who took to social media to promote the brand.  (Which is exactly what "influencers" are suppose to do.)

The stated goal was to reverse sales declines by going beyond the brand's traditional "fratty" appeal and marketing focused on "out of touch humor."

However, the "fratty" contingent took offense at this, and responded by calling for boycotts and posting videos with people shooting guns at Bud Light packages.  Two marketing execs were forced to take a leave of absence, and the Anheuser Busch CEO issued a statement that was so mushy that it was hard to know that he was addressing the controversy.

I made my opinion pretty clear here, but thought that the story had played itself out.

But then I read an interesting Fast Company piece that reminded me of something:

Fast Company wrote about another Bud Light commercial:

“Gender identity is really a spectrum and we don’t need these labels!” says Schumer.

“Beer should have labels, not people! We don’t care: We’ll sell you beer!” shouts Rogen.

Right on! What a proud, definitive stance for a beer brand to take on a social issue. Upon its release, Anheuser Busch declared that the campaign “continues to champion the brand’s message of inclusivity among modern beer drinkers and bringing people together,” and this ad aims to encourage “unity among everyone - men, women, and people of all gender identities - for fun over ice-cold Bud Light.”

This wasn’t a bold, defiant response to the recent transphobic hysteria surrounding the brand for working with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney on a small social media promotion in April 2023.

This is from . . . 2016.

In other words, this isn't really a new story.  (I'd forgotten that I actually wrote about this campaign on MNB back in 2016.)

Beer in general has been seeing declining sales.  And Bud Light's market share has been in decline for much of the past decade.

Before the new controversy broke out, and before she was forced by management to take a leave of absence, Bud Light’s VP of marketing Alissa Heinerscheid explained the reality:  "If we do not attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand, there will be no future for Bud Light."

I've had a few readers who have criticized me for politicizing this story.  That's fine, though I'd argue that I'm just writing about how other people politicized a declining brand's effort to reverse those declines.  (But it is fair to say that my commentary was opinionated.  That's the definition of commentary.)

Look.  This controversy ended up being about the future.  The future of a brand.   The Eye-Opening part of it was what it revealed about how different people view of the future of the culture.