April 13, 2023

Bud Light’s Toxic Brew

A week into the boycott, we can only ask: What was Bud Light’s VP of marketing thinking?

At the risk of dating ourselves, we remember the good ol’ days of Bud Light.

Maybe you remember them, too: the days when Anheuser-Busch, with its Budweiser and Bud Light brands, stood atop the beer world like a colossus. The days when Bud’s long-running “Real Men of Genius” campaign was, well, real marketing genius.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the beer aisle: 39-year-old Bud Light VP of Marketing Alissa Heinerscheid thought a creepy, cultish, fingernails-on-the-chalkboard trans activist would make a great company spokesman.

It didn’t work.

And not only did it not work — it backfired spectacularly. As the New York Post reports: “Since March 31, shares of Bud Light’s parent company have fallen by nearly 4% — knocking down the company’s market capitalization from $132.38 billion to $127.13 billion on Wednesday. Anheuser-Busch stock fizzled more than 1.5% on Wednesday. The company is dealing with the fallout from conservatives over its deal with Mulvaney, the 26-year-old transgender influencer with more than 10 million followers on social media.”

Whoa. Who knew that a guy with more than 10 million social media followers might not have the right followers for an iconic Joe-Sixpack beer brand?

Here’s how Heinerscheid explained herself:

I’m a businesswoman. I had a really clear job to do when I took over Bud Light. It was this brand is in decline. It’s been in decline for a really long time, and if we do not attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand, there will be no future for Bud Light. It means having a campaign that’s truly inclusive and feels lighter and brighter and different and appeals to women and to men. And representation is sort of at the heart of evolution — you got to see people who reflect you in the work. And we had this hangover — I mean, Bud Light had been kind of a brand of fratty, kind of out-of-touch humor, and it was really important that we had another approach.

The pictures of Ms. Heinerscheid swilling beer and blowing up condoms back in her own “fratty” days weren’t exactly — how shall we say this? — helpful.

Anheuser-Busch has bravely remained silent about its dunderheadedness and has “temporarily” suspended its social media efforts. Mulvaney, meanwhile, whined that he’s being bullied because he’s “an easy target.”

Whatever, dude.

As for Anheuser-Busch, the company had best cinch down those Clydesdales. As Justin Kendall notes, “This boycott seems to have more legs than most.”

“It started out as a conversation on social media,” said Kendall, who’s the editor of a trade publication called Brewbound, “and has breached into mainstream media. Bud Light is the best-selling beer in the country, but it remains to be seen whether the drinkers who say they are never going to have another Bud actually follow through on the threat.”

A guy can dream, can’t he?

It’ll be a few more days until the sales numbers from the stores become available, but what was already a bad trend for the nation’s best-selling beer could get a whole lot worse. The Post continues, “Sales of Bud Light — whose share of the US beer market is the nation’s biggest at 10.6% — were down 0.4% to $974 million this year through March 26 compared to a year earlier.”

One Kentucky-based restaurant owner seemed to embody the prevailing sentiment when he announced on Facebook that he’d no longer be serving Budweiser because of the company’s alliance with Mulvaney. In a fit of understatement, he attributed the decision to “a lack of communication with their real-time plain folk customers.”

Indeed, if we can borrow from the captain in “Cool Hand Luke,” what wrecked the wokesters in the C-suite at Anheuser-Busch was failure to communicate. Some marketing geniuses, it seems, you just can’t reach.

Many years ago, we remember swearing off Sam Adams when the brewer said it would boycott the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade because parade officials wouldn’t allow the Rainbow Mafia to politicize the event. We haven’t had so much as a sip of Sam Adams since.

But what that Sam Adams moment lacked was virality. It lacked a catalyzing force that penetrated the popular culture and moved people by the millions.

Not so with Bud Light. The viral moment in this case — the moment that arguably cost Anheuser-Busch $5 billion (and counting) in stock value — was that 30-second video clip from Kid Rock, during which he tore into a supply of Bud Light with an automatic rifle and then dismissed the iconic brand and its parent company with a general call to fornication.

Grandpa was indeed feeling a little frisky that day, and Bud Light has been feeling it ever since.

So here’s to you, Mrs. Customer-Ignoring Company-Tanking Woke Marketing Executive. You thought making Dylan Mulvaney the face of Bud Light was real marketing genius, but now you can’t even give your toxic brew away at softball games and frat parties.

And that’s just as it should be for a business that thinks it knows better than its customers.

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