Yes, hindsight is 20/20. As we reach the anniversary of Bud Light’s marketing blunder, we’ve taken a look back into what really happened to fuel the iconic brand’s crisis. In the year following Bud Light’s cancellation, the company faced material backlash from both the LGBTQ+ and conservative communities for their transgression of core brand values. This amounted to financial repercussions including record low sales as well as organizational turbulence with the loss of two senior marketers.

In our recently published case study, we use Bud Light to examine how cancel culture has evolved. We also guide marketers to take proactive measures to inoculate their brands against moral outrage. We identified three counterintuitive reasons why Bud Light was particularly vulnerable to cancellation:

  1. Distinct perceptions still stand within mass appeal. Bud Light held the top beer spot in the US by being a brand “for everyone.” But by trying to appeal to everyone, it ignored the strength of consumers’ perceptions of the brand. Perceptions of Bud Light consumers were at odds with the campaign; backlash was the price paid. Disregarding its core consumers meant that Bud Light had no devoted fans willing to support it during this downfall.
  2. A campaign’s budget doesn’t dictate its reach. Bud Light’s doomed Dylan Mulvaney “creator marketing” campaign last year was one of the smallest promotions in its mix. But social media virality is a fickle friend: Amplification of marketing messages is no longer in the hands of marketers. Consumers, creators, and celebrities have the power to share and engage with content — especially content that triggers a negative emotional reaction.
  3. Commoditization is a risky business strategy. While Bud Light kept its audience broad, the company had historically garnered high sales by being the “safe,” easy-drinking option. Unfortunately, while it maintained its position through key partnerships and mass marketing, the beer market shrank in total size as consumers traded beer for lighter options such as hard seltzers. When Bud Light lost favor, it was all too easy for drinkers to switch to a new brand without the pressure to return to Bud Light for brand-specific convenience, price, or taste.

Timely and socially relevant marketing campaigns can be a great way for brands to help their consumers celebrate and feel a sense of community and connection. While Bud Light’s fallout with the LGBTQ+ community happened over a March Madness fiasco, the lessons learned remain particularly relevant for brands wishing to engage with other upcoming cultural events, such as Pride Month this June.

Forrester clients can read the full case study here, or schedule a guidance session to chat more.