Anheuser-Busch’s corporate apology and leadership shakeup reflects a brand backtracking on a mistake—but it needs a bold new direction to move forward.
- Bud Light VP Alissa Heinerscheid took extended leave late last week following an April 14 backtracking due to a public backlash against its new company spokesman—transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney.
- Anheuser-Busch executives have informed its distributors that the company is going to invest more heavily in marketing for upcoming sports events like the NFL draft to make up for declining sales, The New York Post reports.
- The company is making significant changes to its senior marking team, streamlining its brands, and bringing in two Washington, D.C.-based conservative consultants to assist the direction of the brand, Fox Business reports.
- Marketing experts differ on a new direction for the brand—trying to reclaim the previous customers and eschew the need for a spokesman or go in an entirely new direction with a bold new spokesman.
Why It’s News
The Bud Light brand has been embroiled in controversy since April 1, when Mulvaney announced the new promotional collaboration on TikTok. Within two weeks, a significant backlash had resulted in a large percentage of customers boycotting the brand due to its connection with the controversial transgender social influencer—which Heinerscheid intended as a method to shift the brand away from its traditional “fratty” image towards young progressive consumers.
Both sides of the political aisle felt burned by the two-week, social-media blowup, with conservatives angry that the brand wanted to turn its back on them in favor of young progressives and LGBTQ+ activists angry that the brand would consider trans representation to be too “political” to have a backbone and stand up for.
Bud Light’s initial reaction to the controversy has given it the image of being reactionary, spineless, and lacking a vision for its direction. It needs a clear message of what Bud Light represents and why—which means it either needs to rebuild its previous reputation or strike out into a bold new direction.
A Message Without A Messenger
Raven Harrison is a political strategist and commentator for Fox News Radio and Raven’s Radar podcast. She has 30 years of experience working in advertising agencies and global marketing agencies. She tells Leaders Media that Bud Light does not need a spokesman. The brand is already associated with Americana and “All-American” values. Bringing in any spokesman to represent the brand is going to be a challenge—both for the company and the person having to carry the burden of the brand.
“Bud Light has an image of baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie—people playing outside. They associate images with being ‘All-American,’ which is not to say those things cannot change, but these images are synonymous with quality, legacy, and value. If the decision had been mine, I would have looked toward an ideal. How do we remind people that drinking Bud Light represents America?” she says.
Bud Light could have initially made this assessment in its decision to bring Dylan Mulvaney into the company. Putting Mulvaney’s face on the side of beer cans and attempting to promote sports events is a signal that the brand believes this individual has special access to Gen Z TikTok culture and LGBTQ+ activists—and that Bud Light’s marketing team was betting that these people are the future of beer customers—-the future of America. Whatever the case, it backfired against the brand in the short term.
“Bud Light is synonymous with Americana, and insulting half of your base is a poor way of insulting their loyalty. The VP described the brand as fratty and in-decline, which is not a great marketing strategy. It puts pressure on the spokesperson to be the savior of the brand,” says Harrison. “Direct feedback is an important role for the marketing department. If the brand declines, the marketing department needs to ask the consumer why. They should’ve taken a long hard look and reevaluated.”
A Bold Approach To Go Forward
Should Bud Light decide to go the route of attempting to hire a spokesman, the company will have to consider the message that person is sending to customers. It will be a challenge to find people with enough broad cultural appeal that they can appeal all at once to conservatives, progressives, blue-collar workers, and social activists. However, such people do exist—musicians like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood or sports stars like Serena Williams and Tom Brady have relatively broad appeal to Americans.
Francisco Gonzalez is an entrepreneur and a public advocate for inclusion. He tells Leaders Media that he disagrees with the assessment that returning to Bud Light’s traditional brand image will fix the brand. He thinks that the ship has already sailed and that a radical new direction is necessary.
He advocates for a more provocative figure to take the lead of Bud Light—Jeffrey Star—a prominent gay makeup artist. His political ideas are less rooted in touchy subjects than the way Dylan Mulvaney is. He has an unusual Marlyn Manson-esque gothic reputation but is unafraid to question prevailing political orthodoxies. He sparked controversy in February by calling non-binary pronouns “boring” and “stupid” during an episode of Barstool Sports’ podcast. Unusual as it may sound, Gonzalez says Star has points in “favor on both sides.”
“Bud Light cannot return to who it was. To try and become an American-focused brand again is not going to work because it scared off its customer base. It now has to build a new base and build a new backbone, saying, ‘This is who we are now.’ It does not have to alienate its base further, but it needs to stand for something. It would be an error to run back into what they were. They need to reinvent themselves. Then when the brand is in a better position, bring back safer people like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood,” says Gonzalez.