- Anheuser-Busch has remained silent since the controversy erupted on April 1
- The company’s social media accounts went dormant for nearly two weeks
Bud Light’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place as it grapples with the polarization of its paid partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.
Since the controversy erupted on April 1, the major social media accounts for Bud Light and Anheuser-Busch have gone silent, despite major sporting events of the type the brand typically echoes.
Aside from a terse initial statement, Anheuser-Busch also ignored media inquiries on the matter. Last week, a distributor in Missouri canceled an event featuring the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, citing safety concerns.
“They didn’t expect the reaction they got,” said Gareth Boyd, a marketing and public relations expert at Forte Analytica, speaking to DailyMail.com on Thursday as an observer of the industry. “Right now, if they respond and they don’t succeed, they will only hurt themselves more.”
“I think they’re probably trying to avoid talking about it, hoping and praying it goes away, but that’s probably the worst thing you can do,” he added.
As the company remained on the sidelines, the controversy took an eerie turn, with musician Kid Rock posting a video of himself shooting Bud Light cases, and country singers John Rich and Travis Tritt publicly speaking out against the brand.
And there was backlash to backlash, with shock jock Howard Stern slamming the fury at Bud Light as overdone, and podcaster Joe Rogan calling the conservative outrage at Mulvaney “awkward”.
Behind the scenes at Anheuser-Busch, there have been hints of internal unrest and finger-pointing over the fallout from the controversy.
According to sources quoted by the Daily Wire, “no one at a higher level” was aware of the Mulvaney brand partnership prior to its launch, and the campaign was undertaken by a “low-level marketing employee”.
According to the report, executives “paused” new marketing campaigns so they could implement a more robust vetting process for future projects.
While media attention has focused on Bud Light Vice President Alissa Heinerscheid for her potential role overseeing the campaign, Boyd argued that the responsibility of overseeing protocols for approving new Bud Light campaigns marketing ultimately rests with the CEO of the company.
Anheuser-Busch is led by US CEO Brendan Whitworth, a former Navy lieutenant, CIA officer and Harvard Business School graduate, who joined AB in 2014 after serving as a senior executive at Frito-Lay.
Anheuser-Busch’s only comment on the matter was a single statement confirming that the Bud Light cans showing Mulvaney’s face were a personal gift to the influencer, not for sale to the public.
“Anheuser-Busch works with hundreds of influencers across our brands as one of many ways to authentically connect with audiences across different demographics,” the statement said last week.
“From time to time, we produce unique commemorative cans for fans and for brand influencers, such as Dylan Mulvaney. This commemorative can was a gift to celebrate a personal milestone and is not for sale to the general public,” the company added.
The statement appears to tread a fine line in avoiding outright condemnation of those who criticized the Mulvaney partnership, while also avoiding any disavowal of the partnership itself.
“They have a very big problem, and the longer they continue to not release anything concrete, it’s only going to get worse,” Boyd observed.
Boyd asked if proper contingency planning was done at Anheuser-Busch before launching the partnership with Mulvaney, saying it appeared the company didn’t have a contingency plan in place.
“You would have thought they would have had something that said, ‘Okay, worst case scenario backlash, what do we fall back to? “, Did he declare.
By contrast, Nike faced a similar backlash online over a brand partnership with Mulvaney last week, but got ahead of the game with social media posts and hit back at criticism.
Marketing pundits say Nike was perhaps in a better position to react decisively to the backlash, as its key customers are younger and more liberal than Bud Light.
“Be nice…Be inclusive,” Nike said in a pinned comment on Instagram, after a flood of comments criticized its deal with Mulvaney. “Hate speech, bullying or other behavior that is not in the spirit of a diverse and inclusive community will be removed.”
Meanwhile, Bud Light and Anheuser-Busch’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts have been silent since April 1, despite big events like the NCAA Men’s Basketball Finals and Masters Tournament.
Michelob Ultra, another key AB brand, has not posted on social media since April 2.
As the controversy drags on, questions mount about whether Anheuser-Busch’s sales will suffer significantly from the backlash and boycotts.
The St. Louis-based company is a subsidiary of Belgian multinational AB InBev, which counts the United States as its largest sales market.
The company’s overall adjusted profit rose 7.6% on a like-for-like basis in the fourth quarter of last year, to $4.95 billion.
Ed Mundy, equity analyst at Jeffries, wrote in a recent note that “it is too early to conclude what the long-term impact on the brand might be” of the Mulvaney controversy.
He noted that Google data showed that relative search interest in “Bud Light” peaked on April 6 at the height of the furor and has since declined, “which may indicate that this may be a transient headwind. for the brand”.
Simon Hales, managing director and head of consumer staples and beverages research at Citi, in a note on Thursday called the recent decline in AB InBev shares a potential buying opportunity.
Shares of the company fell more than 4% for the week through Wednesday, after hitting 52-week highs last week. The stock rose again on Thursday, gaining 1.5% on the day.
“While brand volumes in some states may experience near-term headwinds, we don’t expect them to be significant or sustainable,” Hales said.
“Additionally, if the new messaging helps attract Gen Z consumers to the brand, this move could well prove to be favorable to Bud Light volumes over time,” he added.
In the past, some cultural or political boycotts of consumer goods have backfired and actually resulted in increased sales.
In July 2020, Goya, a major Latin food brand, faced a furious backlash from liberal customers after the CEO endorsed the re-election of then-President Donald Trump.
The boycott call dominated social media, but the impact on sales was the opposite: Goya sales temporarily increased 22% in the weeks immediately following, according to a Cornell University study.
However, there are at least early reports that Anheuser-Busch distributors have seen sales plummet following the Mulvaney controversy, according to trade publication Beer Business Daily.
The outlet wrote in its report that it sought to unpack the backlash by looking at things solely from a “marketing and business perspective” and “ignoring politics and social issues.”
“As of Thursday afternoon, we had reached out to a handful of fearful AB distributors, particularly in the Heartland and the South, and even in their more rural areas,” he posted on Monday.
He said data was limited and the Easter weekend disrupted consumer habits, making it harder to spot trends.
“With very limited data from a handful of wholesalers, it seems likely that Bud Light suffered a drop in volume in some markets over the holiday weekend, particularly in rural areas, which make up their markets apart from higher,” the outlet posted.
Anheuser-Busch did not respond to an interview request and a list of questions from DailyMail.com on Thursday morning.
For her part, Mulvaney has spoken out freely to hit back at criticism of her deal with Bud Light.
During an appearance on Rosie O’Donnell’s podcast this week, Mulvaney – who has just completed the first year of her gender transition, said: ‘The reason why I think I’m so…I’m a target easy because I’m so new to this.
“I think it’s a lot harder to go after a trans woman who’s been doing this for 20 years. I think they think maybe there’s some kind of luck with me… But what’s their objective ?
“These people, they don’t understand me, and everything I do or say is then taken out of context and used against me, and it’s so sad because everything I try to say is positive.”
“It’s trying to connect with others who maybe don’t understand me. It’s to make people laugh or to make a child feel seen.
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