In early April, Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light brand saw itself caught in a culture war fiasco. For its NCAA March Madness activation, the beer brand partnered with popular TikTok trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney for a one-time giveaway. This led to an uproar on social media — initially from conservative voices including musicians Kid Rock and Travis Tritt — to boycott the beer brand. What followed were company dismissals of two senior marketing executives, a written statement from Anheuser-Busch’s CEO, and a retconning of the narrative. AB InBev’s actions only exacerbated the issue on both sides of the culture war, while also alienating the LGBTQIA+ community.
The fact is the market for traditional beer in the US has decreased in size over the past few years, as hard seltzers, spirits, and new alcoholic beverages like ready-to-drink cocktails take up shelf space. While the category as a whole is partially to blame for general beer sales decline, AB InBev’s missteps to this particular PR crisis will hurt the Bud Light brand longer than typical brand situations that have experienced cancel culture.
Here are three lessons that B2C marketing executives can learn from Bud Light’s mistakes:
- Align with your leadership and internal stakeholders. Bud Light’s partnership with Dylan Mulvaney was a small marketing execution, not a big brand campaign. However, in today’s omnichannel marketing landscape, what was once seen as a small tactic is easily amplified in the era of social media. Therefore, it’s important to align with internal stakeholders on the brand promise, point of view, and how far the brand is willing wade into social issues. Use Forrester’s 4C Framework to understand how your brand can advance fairness and equity.
- Know your brand’s perception, not just the makeup of your consumer base. Bud Light’s brand has heavy associations from the Budweiser brand of classic Americana, Clydesdale horses, and blue-collar workers. A newly launched Budweiser TV ad, “The Shared Spirit,” featured those perceptions just a couple of weeks after Anheuser-Busch’s CEO Brendan Whitworth released his statement. Indeed, Bud Light’s consumer base is wide reaching, but it is important to know not only who your core customers are, but what their perceptions are of your brand.
- Be inclusive beyond just your marketing programs. Forrester’s Q2 2023 B2C Marketing CMO Pulse Survey found that 91% of US B2C marketing executives agree that incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices in their advertising and communications is important. Beyond creating advertising that caters to different consumers, over half of these same marketing executives have hired a consultant or consultancy that has expertise in DEI practices. Building inclusivity starts from who you partner with internally and goes beyond advertising. Mastercard has created innovative products, such as the True Name feature and Touch Card, for those with vision impairments.
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