by Jay Johansen | Jul 17, 2023
I'm writing this in July 2023. I leave my articles sitting on my web site indefinitely, so maybe you're coming across this years later and don't even remember the Budweiser boycott. So for background, here's the gist of the story:
In April 2023 Budweiser made an arrangment with Dylan Mulvaney, a well-known cross-dresser, to endorse their beer. Mulvaney imagines that he somehow became a woman, and apparently this April was the first anniversary of his magical transmogrification, so they made a special "commemmorative can" with his picture on it to celebrate his "365 days of being a girl". Dylan Mulvaney announces being newest brand ambassador for Bud Light
If you've never seen Mulvaney's videos, he puts on an exagerrated parody of stereotypes of women. For example, in one of his videos he is walking through a park when he sees a bug and he pretends to go into a total panic, running away and screaming and falling down. Because girls are afraid of bugs, apparently. In the video for Bud Light, he pretends to not know anything about basketball. Even though by his own account he was a man for 25 years, apparently he forgot everything he ever knew about sports when he "became a girl" because women don't know anything about sports. Etc. As a man I find his routine insulting to women. As I write this it occurs to me that I've never asked a woman what she thinks of Mulvaney. Would an actual woman find his routine insulting? Or an amusing parody?
But Bud's customer base is mostly testosterone-heavy young men, so there was immediate and heavy backlash. Their customers are not the kind of men who wanted to be associated with cross-dressers and homosexuals.
Then a video came out of an interview with Bud's Vice President of Marketing, Alissa Heinerschedid, in which she says that Bud's existing customers are "fratty" and "out of touch" and the brand needs to "evolve". Bud Light's Marketing VP says she was inspired to update fratty, out of touch branding inclusively This didn't help.
While no organization tried to organize a boycott, there was a spontaneous boycott by many of the customers.
Bud's first reaction was to double down and say that they fully supported this marketting effort. Then sales plummetted. As I write this, reports say sales are down 25%. So they tried another tack. They tried to appease the traditional customers sith a very country-looking, traditional ad featuring cowgirls in the rain drinking Bud. Bud Light Shower Beer This went over like a lead balloon. Everyone knew it was a desperate attempt to pander to their traditional market.
Bud came out with a non-apology, Bud Light CEO Responds to Trans Controversy Basically their CEO tried to remind customers of Bud's long history of being a beer for middle America. He talked about supporting the military and respecting American values. But he never actually mentioned the cross-dressing "brand ambassador". The closest he came was to say, "We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer."
The customers mostly found this to just be doubling down on the insults. "We don't want to be divisive. We laught at the ignorance of you fratty, out of touch hillbillies, but we still want you to give us money."
In a conference call with investors, he blamed all the excitement on "misinformation". What misinformation was being spread, exactly? Well he explained that the can with Mulvaney's picture on it was a custom-made can. They only made one, there was no plan to release it for general distribution. And this was not a "campaign" but a single video. To which one can only say, Who said otherwise? And, So what? If a company hired a representative of the Ku Klux Klan to endorse their brand, I don't think any liberal would be appeased by them pointing out that it was just one commercial and not a series.
The latest development I've heard is that now LGBTQ groups are boyocotting Bud, because they failed to strenuously defend Mulvaney. So now Budweiser finds that it has offended both its old customers and the people they were trying to reach out to.
It's interesting that, as of this writing, Budweiser has not publicly renounced the ad. It appears they're trying to steer a middle ground. They don't want to offend either the fratty, out-of-touch hillbillies who used to buy their product, or the sophisticated elites that they go to cocktail parties with.
They put the marketing VP who came up with this brilliant campaign on "leave", but they didn't fire her. They produced several ads clearly intended to appeal to the fratty, out-of-touch hillbillies, but they have not disavowed the Mulvaney ad.
Corporate America in general, and apparently Budweiser in particular, appear to be absolutely convinced that the vast majority of Americans are pro-homosexuality, pro-cross-dressing, and pro all the other perversions that the left celebrates. They seem to honestly think that they dare not say anything that might be perceived as anti-cross-dressing because this would offend millions of Americans and destroy their business reputation. Even with their sales tanking because of an anti-cross-dressing backlash, they're convinced that most of their customers just must really be pro-cross-dressing.
If I ever teach a class on marketing, I'll have to include this as a quiz question:
Suppose you are marketing director for a company that has the #1 selling product in the nation in its category. You are making billions of dollars. Should you:
The correct answer, of course, is both (c) and (d).
So how will this boycott end? I can think of X scenarios.
One. It blows over. After a couple of months some other issue makes the news, and people lose interest in the boycott. A few stallwarts hang on, but most people move on to something else.
I'd guess this is what Bud is hoping for. Just ride it out, and the issue will go away and everything will return to normal.
The catch to this is that there are lots of brands of beer out there. If a customer decides to boycott Bud Light, that doesn't mean that they have to go without drinking beer, so that sooner or later they might tire of the boycott and come back. They can easily switch to another brand. And once they do, even if they lose interest in the boycott or completely forget about it, they might just continue with their new brand.
(Disclaimer: When all this started, I bought some stock in Coors, figuring they were likely to go up. I'm not a rich man so not some huge share, just a few hundred dollars.)
Two. Budweiser goes bankrupt.
Would it really go that far? Probably not. Budweiser is a big company with many brands and operates all over the world.
What's more plausible is that they would drop the "Budweiser" name and start marketing under a new name. But that's hugely problematic, too. Budweiser was the #1 brand in their market. If they started over again with a new name, it would take them years, probably decades, to build back to where they were. And it assumes that most potential customers would not know about the name change and would think this was a new name. But surely word would get out.
Personally I think this would be a foolish move. But companies with established brand names change their names all the time, for reasons that generally baffle me. Usually they say that the old name was out of date and failed to reflect their current product line. But like, United States Steel, once one of the best known brand names in the country, changed it's name to USX. Quaker Oats change the name of Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix and Aunt Jemima Syrup to Pearl Milling Company. Because they were convinced there was a massive backlash against having a picture of a black woman on their product. Sales propmtly dropped by 50%. So while I think this would be a foolish move, Bud might do it.
Three. They lose most of their old customers, but replace them with new customers brought in by this new advertising campaign.
Their are two problems with this. One is that the customer base for a low-cost light bear is mostly blue collar young men. Homosexuals and cross-dressers don't tend to be beer drinkers. They're more champagne and latte drinkers.
Second is that the number of homosexuals and cross-dressers in the country is tiny. Depending on what survey you go by, the number of Americans who are homosexual, bisexual, trans, or something of that sort is maybe possibly 7%.
Four. Budweiser does something to win their customers' loyalty back. The big question is, What? They tried running ads designed to appeal to the base, and no one went for it. It was too obviously an attempt at pandering.
Personally, I think their only chance to pull this off would be to publicly renounce the Mulvaney association. Ideally, a wise company stears clear of controversial subjects. Never say anything about some controversial issue one way or the other, and you can win customers from both sides. If you never bring the subject up, most people will never think to ask what your company's position on the question is. If someone does ask, you just say, "We don't have a position. We sell beer, we're not a political party." And most people would accept that. But Bud deliberately inserted themsevles into this very controversial issue. And doubly foolishly, they forcefully took the side that was the opposite of that of most of their customers.
It's too late to try to play the middle. "We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people." Umm, then why did you start that discussion? That was just ... dumb.
© 2023 by Jay Johansen
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