The beer maker has a history of marketing to LGBTQ+ communities and has been targeted by conservatives in the past. But, experts tell CNN that calls for a boycott rarely result in an actual boycott and that controversies often blow over.
Anheuser-Busch has taken steps to calm the backlash since Bud Light’s social media partnership with a transgender influencer was met with both support and threats of boycotts. The company has apologized for the post and placed VP of Bud light customer service marketing Alissa Heinerscheid and the group marketing executive who oversees several of the beer maker’s brands on leave. The company didn’t say when the executives would return or whether they will be paid during their leaves.
Heinerscheid and the executives she led were behind Bud Light’s popular Super Bowl ads that featured a transgender woman carrying a round of beers for her friends, as well as a spot featuring Miles Teller and his wife Keleigh Sperry that celebrates their relationship. Heinerscheid also led Bud Light’s push to reach younger consumers who may not have been reached by its traditional advertising.
Bud Light’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, has been in the business for over 100 years and sells many different brands of beer. Its stock hasn’t moved much in the wake of the controversy over Bud Light’s collaboration with Mulvaney. However, sales at Bud Light’s distributors and in bars have declined significantly.
A week after the controversy erupted, Bud Light’s sales dropped 21% in US retail stores, according to data from Bump Williams Consulting cited by the Wall Street Journal. Sales of rivals Miller Lite and Coors Lite grew during that same week.
Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Michel Doukeris downplayed the issue in a call with investors last week. He said Bud Light’s US sales decline during the first three weeks of April represented only 1% of the beer’s global volumes. He added that the beer maker is providing financial support to delivery drivers, wholesalers and other employees who are struggling with the sales declines.
Manveer Mann, associate professor of marketing at the Feliciano School of Business at Montclair State University, says Bud Light should have anticipated the backlash and had a plan in place to handle it. He says Nike learned a lesson in 2018 when it stood by Colin Kaepernick after he was threatened with a boycott, and its sales rebounded.
But Mann says Bud Light might have been able to avoid the controversy by avoiding Mulvaney altogether and focusing instead on its core audience. He adds that Bud Light’s current approach to marketing isn’t helping it stand out from its competitors, which are all focused on creating more inclusive, diverse advertising. He says Bud Light should focus on its quality and taste to attract customers who want to drink a beer they can trust. He also thinks it would be wise to hire a diversity and inclusion consultant to help the company develop its marketing strategy moving forward.