Bud Light Response to Mulvaney Brouhaha Tastes Flat

Thom Weidlich 04.20.23


The barroom brawl over a Bud Light campaign is yet another example of a company launching controversial marketing and not being prepared for the predictable backlash. Worse, the U.S. CEO of the beer’s maker waited two weeks to comment on the fracas and he didn’t even really address it.

For the March Madness college-basketball championship, Bud Light decided to seek a larger audience for its old-timey beer by tapping social-media influencers. One was transgender actress Dylan Mulvaney, who on April 1 did a sponsored post on Instagram with a video of her promoting a $15,000 Bud Light contest and drinking a can of the brew. Mulvaney has 1.8 million Instagram followers.

The backlash was immediate. Conservative celebrities such as Ted Nugent, Kid Rock and Travis Tritt expressed their outrage at the iconic American brand not being outraged by trans rights. Others, such as podcaster Joe Rogan and shock jock Howard Stern, defended the campaign, or at least made fun of the calls for boycotts. Reporters have been quoting barkeeps throughout the land claiming that Bud sales are down.

Instagram, Twitter

The big problem was that, in the wake of the uproar, Bud Light and owner Anheuser-Busch InBev were missing in action. They had nothing to say and didn’t defend their marketing. In addition, as Bloomberg advertising columnist Ben Schott pointed out, the Instagram and Twitter accounts of both the brand and the company went silent for about two weeks. Bud Light tweeted again only on Friday, April 14 (“TGIF?” it said).

Also on April 14, AB InBev North America CEO Brendan Whitworth finally tweeted a statement, clearly aimed at the controversy but completely neglecting to mention it. Whitworth invoked the company’s storied history and a lot of American patriotism, including noting his “time serving this country” (he’s a former Marine).

The statement really was evasive and confusing. Here’s the closest it came to mentioning the Clydesdale in the room: “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.”

‘Polarized Space’

Talk about not standing up for your actions — or for trans rights. As Bloomberg’s Schott pointed out, the statement basically threw Mulvaney under the beer wagon. “Bud Light actively and eagerly sought out a controversial influencer in a dangerously polarized space, with neither the wisdom to plan for a backlash nor the bravery to stand by its partner,” he wrote in the April 15 column.

Last month, Bud Light Vice President Alissa Heinerscheid discussed the brand’s inclusivity efforts with the “Make Yourself at Home” podcast. “This brand is in decline,” she said. “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 no future for Bud Light.”

Unfortunately, this latest effort wasn’t impressive and is not a good example for crisis communicators to follow.

Photo Credit: Bud Light via Facebook

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