Why Is the Bud Light Boycott So Fizzy?
The Bud Light boycott is a saga to ponder. Most consumer boycotts steeped in politics seem to go flat rather quickly. Four-plus months in, the action against the beer brand is still going strong and still hurting sales. The question is: Why?
On April 1, transgender actress and social-media influencer Dylan Mulvaney did a Bud Light sponsored post on Instagram with a video of her drinking a can of the brew. Conservatives objected and called for a boycott. At first it seemed it would be the typical nothingburger. But the boycott call caught on.
Bud Light and owner Anheuser-Busch InBev didn’t say anything for two weeks. On April 14, the AB InBev North America CEO finally tweeted a statement that, far from defending Mulvaney or the campaign, seemed to distance the company from both.
Anheuser-Busch then placed on leave two executives involved in the campaign, including the Bud Light vice president who had been hired to reinvigorate the brand.
The company’s actions go a long way toward explaining the boycott’s staying power. It clearly didn’t plan for the crisis. When the crisis hit, it didn’t defend itself. And in punishing the executives, it emboldened the boycotters — driving down sales wasn’t the only effect the boycott was having. (For its second-quarter results this month, Anheuser-Busch reported U.S. beer sales down 10.5 percent, which it said was “primarily due to” the fall in Bud Light purchases.)
Another issue is that beer drinking (and buying) can be a public act. Yes, you can quietly sit home and imbibe but, in certain circles, you now don’t want to be seen walking out of the convenience store with a six pack of Bud Light. We imagine it’s even worse in bars and at sporting events. The Bud Light tent at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota this month was reportedly near empty.
Other brands such as Target and Disney have faced similar anti-LGBTQ+ boycotts (a shareholder suit was filed against Target last week). But who will know where you bought that flannel shirt? And if someone sees you at Disney World, well, that person is there too.
We’ve reached the point where the controversy has given rise to a new verb. Skittles just released new pro-LGBTQ+ packaging, and one consumer said it was “time to Bud Light them.” And yet the candy, owned by the Wrigley Co., which is owned by Mars Inc., is defending its partnership with the gay community (unlike Bud Light).
And that raises another factor. We are experiencing a general backlash against gains in gay rights. The Bud Light boycott is part of that. That is part of its strength. But the backlash was hardly a secret and the company should have been prepared for it.
Bud Light is making a mistake in not defending itself and instead turning tail. It should defend its (former) desire to be inclusive. Reaching out to trans consumers doesn’t mean others can’t drink the quaff, too.
Photo Credit: PRCG
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