If Budweiser is the King of Beers, as its slogan claims, then Bud Light has long been the Queen. Launched over 40 years ago, in 1982, and now the world’s most successful low-calorie beer, ‘B Minus’ occupies a funny sweet spot in America’s sprawling consumer conscience. Also known as ‘redneck soda’, ‘frat water’ and ‘turtle jiz’ – Bud Light is a product that conveys a mass-marketable sense of irony. That’s what ad men dream about.
But then, two months ago, Anheuser Busch, Bud’s parent company, did something stupid. Some marketing whizz decided it would be super-provocative to ‘partner’ – as marketing drones like to say – with the trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Mulvaney promoted a can with his/her face on it to celebrate his/her first anniversary as a member of the opposite sex. This went viral in all the wrong ways and tapped into a social force that is now far more potent than blue-collar irony: the blue-collar culture war.
An angry online reaction began and just kept gathering speed: mass boycotts continued and anti-Bud hashtags sprouted up everywhere. And now sales are down almost 30 per cent year on year. Retailers are slashing the price of Bud Light and Anheuser’s shares are crashing. Of course, other economic factors are at play – and Bud Light has been losing market share to Coors Light for some time.
Nonetheless, the Mulvaney stunt could be remembered as one of the worst marketing missteps in history. Publicity isn’t always good publicity and, in a cost-of-living crisis when rage-addicted Americans can instantly share their fury together, a major online blunder can cost millions, even billions.
Presumably blinded by woke-corporate thinking, Budweiser forgot the secret of its own success.