Bud Light missed the market with its most recent advertising campaign—attempting to be more inclusive and alienating both sides of its consumer base.
- Bud Light announced on April 1 that transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney would become the company’s new face, with the TikTok star’s image being added to cans of Bud Light and promoting Bud Light’s March Madness contest.
- Parent company Anheuser-Busch backtracked from the decision in an April 14 press release following a social-media backlash from prominent conservatives.
- The company says it “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people” and wants to bring people together over beer.
- As we previously reported, sources alleged that Bud Light sales had declined precipitously over two weeks, as much as 30% to 80% in some sectors.
Why It’s Important
As Bud Light VP Alissa Heinerscheid revealed in a March episode of the Make Yourself At Home podcast, the brand was declining in sales and needed to appeal to a new audience through inclusivity, away from the perceived “fratty” brand it was known for being. The pivot to taking on Mulvaney as the face of the label was a clear signal that the company was eager to embrace a younger, more inclusive, pro-LGBTQ+ audience.
Francisco Gonzalez is an entrepreneur and a public advocate for inclusion. He tells Leaders Media that the mistake the corporation made was embracing a politically hot figure who could not unite the traditional audience of Bud Light drinkers with the new desired audience of young progressives.
“As a gay man myself, I’ve been to plenty of bars, and you do not see anyone there drinking Bud Light. We’re not going to start drinking it just because Mulvaney is on the side of the can. It was a miss because Bud Light does not know who drinks their products,” he says.
Gonzalez compared the controversy to a similar controversy that broke out in February 2012, when JCPenny was scrutinized for hiring outspoken lesbian talk-show host Ellen Degeneres as its spokesman and received heavy scrutiny from anti-LGBTQ+ activists at the time. JCPenny ultimately stood by its spokesman. In the long run, the decision did not make a difference for the company—as it declared bankruptcy in 2020.
Bud Light is facing a similar decline, and Gonzolaz argues that the best approach in this situation is to pick an individual who is uniting both sides of the political aisle rather than a figure that is going to bring polarization to the brand. Instead, the company made the decision to hire a controversial figure and then backed away the moment the decision became too hot—alienating both conservative and progressive audiences.
“They went for a home run, and they struck out instead. You need a nuanced approach, know your audience, and produce a product palatable to your customer base. The goal was to build a bigger tent, but they failed and ended up chasing people out of two different tents. There could’ve been a more gradual introduction of a new branding strategy. They want to get their product into the hands of the right influencers, but they need to put it in the hand of non-polarizing figures who have roots on both sides of the aisle,” says Gonzalez.
Inclusivity needs to mean more than abandoning your core audience for another one—otherwise, brands can lose a loyal audience for one that is not interested.