The Bud Light Backlash – a modern day marketing story
Published: April 21, 2023
A couple of Instagram posts by the influencer Dylan Mulvaney has caused all hell to break loose as it were. There is backlash online, all kinds of negativity on conservative media and even threats of physical violence.
It all started when Bud Light in a move to convey the message that they were inclusive just like the current Gen Z, signed up with Dylan Mulvaney, a trans-gender influencer, with 10.8 million followers on TikTok.
Mulvaney posted on Instagram, promoting the beer and also showing a custom-made beer can that Bud Light had sent to her as a gift to mark a milestone in her transition.
Soon after, the anti-trans backlash started. The musician Kid Rock posted an Instagram video of him shooting cases of Bud Light, saying “F**k Bud Light, F**k Anheuser-Busch” which got about 1.8 million views.
Many conservatives called for a boycott of the brand. This has led to even a drop in sales.
On the other hand, there are those who wish to show solidarity with the brand. Some people posted pictures of themselves proudly holding a can of Bud Light as a show of support. Even politicians! Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California and Florida state representative Angie Dixon, also a Democrat, shared pictures of them holding a can of Bud Light, writing “what a nice day to enjoy a can of @budlight.” Apart from this, Mulvaney’s fans posted words of support on her social platforms, as well.
All of this made AB Inbev release a statement –
We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people, he said. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer. The company has a proud history supporting our communities, military, first responders, sports fans and hard-working Americans everywhere.
CEO Brendan Whitworth
In the wake of this controversy, Alissa Heinerscheid, who has led the brand since June, has taken a leave of absence and has been replaced by Budweiser global marketing VP Todd Allen.
Marketing lessons from the backlash
It certainly looks like if you do some inclusive marketing, you might impress one new generation of customers, but you certainly make the brand’s core audience, uncomfortable.
Brands who wish to woo the young generation know that including the LGBTQ is good for your business. Many of Gen Z identifies themselves as either Gay or Lesbian or trans or bisexual. So a campaign like this with such an influencer resonates well with this segment of the brand’s audience.
But what about the older generation that is already your loyal customer? Something like this will surely not sit well with them.
So must brands avoid such controversial campaigns?
For a brand to survive and thrive, they need to add more new customers to their fold. And the younger generation falls in this category. Inclusion is something that Gen Z approves of – and to get their attention, brands must be inclusive.
The bad press will die down. Actually any publicity is good for the brand!
One can’t always react to every reaction to a controversial topic. Or avoid controversial issues in campaigns. Gen Z likes brands that commit to causes – whether it is to the environment or to LGBTQ rights. And it is good for brands to appear committed and authentic. That way they will be relevant to the new and forward-thinking Gen Z.
Let’s face it – the future is in their hands, after all!
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