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Bud Light put itself in the middle of the culture wars with "a single commemorative can of beer," said Danielle Wiener-Bronner at CNN — which "wasn't even for sale." The controversy started with a beer can sent to Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender TikTok star, to "mark a milestone in her transition." A conservative backlash ensued, and sales plummeted, off 26 percent for the week ending April 26 compared with a year earlier. By this week, Bud Light's maker, Anheuser-Busch, was in full damage-control mode. Between the initial promotion and Anheuser-Busch's defensive reaction, the beer maker managed to anger both sides. A "milquetoast statement" from Anheuser-Busch's CEO and putting two marketing executives on leave failed to placate conservatives. Meanwhile, the vitriolic response and Budweiser's failure to defend Mulvaney confirmed liberals' worst suspicions. "What I'm struggling to understand is the need to dehumanize and to be cruel," Mulvaney said this week.
Bud Light stands accused of marketing to people who aren't its typical customers, said John Gapper in the Financial Times. "Forgive me, but I thought that was the point of marketing, especially when you're trying to revive a brand in long-term decline" because more Americans are choosing liquors and hard seltzers. Bud Light recognized it "is a fading asset that needs to regain some cachet among Millennials and Gen-Zers." The company should stick with that business decision, because these viral protests "often pass as rapidly as they have erupted." All the noise doesn't change "the fact that it needs more drinkers."
Alienating your primary consumer base doesn't sound like a smart business decision to me, said Wilfred Reilly in National Review. I have no problem with drag queens or civil rights protests, but anyone could see that "these are not the best marketers" for selling beer to working people. Why make these contentious decisions — unless you despise your audience? Sure, being "woke" sells sometimes, said Charles Gasparino in the New York Post. Nike's ad with former pro football player and activist Colin Kaepernick "was a killer — sales of the sneakers soared in its aftermath." But Nike's brand, unlike Bud Light's, was always countercultural. There's a "good case that the American public have had enough of the proselytizing."
It used to be easier to "express your politics with your beer preferences," said Matthew Walther in The New York Times. The Coors family supported Ronald Reagan, opposed unions, promoted its beers with cowboy stars, and ran a TV spot saying, "It's not city beer. It's Coors." But claiming a major brand as plausibly right-wing or left-wing is ridiculous today. Bud Light is a beer owned since 2008 by the Belgian multinational Anheuser-Busch InBev, which also owns Corona, Stella Artois, Michelob, and Modelo. Some of Bud Light's traditional ads may be perceived "as a winking affirmation" of some "anti-elitist worldview," but that's just "marketing all the way down." All the people who think they were betrayed by a beer don't realize that the only thing driving Bud Light "or any other consumer good available on a global scale, is the remorseless logic of shareholder value."
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.