20 July 2023

Bud Light marketers cannot do anything right

USA | Rarely has an effort at rejuvenating a brand gone as spectacularly wrong as when Bud Light’s marketers entered into a partnership with a transgender social-media star, only to fall victim to America’s culture wars. Now it seems all efforts to salvage Bud Light’s reputation are either ridiculed or slammed by the commentariat.

The backlash against Bud Light began on 1 April, when the trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney posted photos and a video of her drinking the beer and touting that she was a #budlightpartner. Many punters were outraged. Sales of Bud Light began to tumble as consumers joined the boycott. They have not recovered yet.

This is despite Anheuser-Busch (A-B) making every effort to stop the sales decline.

Financial support for distributors and almost free beer

To support its distributors, A-B is providing financial support, based on the extent to which sales have fallen, according to Beer Business Daily, a trade publication. Some distributors will get between USD 0.20 to USD 0.50 back per case, depending on how severe sales have slipped. Fuel and freight surcharges will also be reimbursed through the rest of the year.

To lure customers and move some product, A-B offered huge discounts and rebates ahead of the 4 July holiday. The discounts made its beers incredibly cheap – a case selling for the price of a broccoli - and sometimes even free.

New commercials met with disdain

In June, A-B began rolling out TV commercials, entitled “That’s Who We Are”, which centred on some of its 65,000 workers and partners. The ads were meant to appeal to its lost consumer base with pro-America messaging and patriotic imagery.

Critics have fiercely criticised the ads, dismissing them as a poor attempt at trying to move past the controversy without offering an apology.

Worse still, another Bud Light commercial starring the American football player Travis Kelce, which was aired on YouTube ahead of 4 July, left people in stitches. The ad, titled “Backyard Grunts with Travis Kelce”, was labelled as another “desperate” effort to regain support. “Man, Bud Light is going for the death blow at this point,” one punter wrote. “This is what they think of their client base, stupid grunting cavemen.”

Even when A-B issued a pair of seemingly innocuous tweets over the 4 July holiday weekend, they were met with outrage.

With the summer sales season well underway - the four months between May and August make up as much as 40 percent of annual beer sales - the question swirling around Bud Light is whether the slump is temporary or the New Normal.

Job losses at a glass manufacturer

Meanwhile, the Bud Light fiasco is taking a human toll too. At the end of June, the glass bottle manufacturer, the Ardagh Group, announced that it was shuttering its plants in Wilson, North Carolina, and Simsboro, Louisiana. More than 600 people will lose their jobs. Although the manufacturer would not blame A-B, it is understood that these plants are major producers of Bud Light and Budweiser bottles.

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