Published on September 13, 2023, at 9:42 p.m.
by Alaina McDuffie.
The brewery, which is known for brands like Bud Light, Budweiser and Michelob Ultra, is in the midst of a media storm, with many conservative celebrities and commentators encouraging consumers to boycott Bud Light. Country music singers Travis Tritt and Riley Green are two of the artists who have shared their disdain for the partnership publicly — Tritt has banned all beverages made by Anheuser-Busch on his tour, while Green was filmed recently changing the lyrics to his song “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” live to reflect his anti-Bud Light sentiment.
In early April 2023, Anheuser-Busch sent a few Bud Light beer cans to Mulvaney, one of which was branded with her likeness. In response, Mulvaney posted a video of herself dressed like Holly Golightly from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” using said beers to publicize March Madness and to celebrate her first year of girlhood. She also used the video to bring awareness to a Bud Light sweepstakes where individuals can win $15,000 for sending in their own video showing the number of Bud Light beers they can carry.
To say the video wasn’t received well by a conservative audience is an understatement.
Once-loyal fans of the beer company began boycotting Bud Light, resulting in Anheuser-Busch losing $5 billion of market value. Additionally, the New York Post reported that Bud Light sales have dropped 26% in the wake of the boycott.
Amid plummeting sales and public outcry, Anheuser-Busch announced that two of its executives were taking a leave of absence: Alissa Heinerscheid, the vice president of marketing for Bud Light, and Daniel Blake, who oversees marketing for Anheuser-
Busch’s mainstream brands. Heinerscheid noted in a YouTube interview that she saw an opportunity for Bud Light to appeal to a younger beer drinking demographic by running an inclusive campaign.
Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth also released an apology letter to the public, but it appears that critics have not been so quick to forgive, claiming that they deserve a genuine apology from company leadership.
One Twitter user wrote: “NOPE. Not good enough. Boycott continues until full apology, fire VP Mrkt, and Mulvaney dropped. Either that or Anheuser-Busch becomes the next Schlitz.”
Benefiting business in the long run?
While many public relations and marketing professionals are wondering how Bud Light could so quickly forget its main target audience, not all are convinced that partnering with Mulvaney was a bad move.
Eric Yaverbaum, the CEO of Ericho Communications, argued that he experienced similar backlash in 1994 due to an Ikea commercial that showcased a same-sex couple. Moreover, Yaverbaum maintained that the boycott and backlash Bud Light is currently facing will actually positively impact the company in the long run.
“I don’t just think it will be good for Bud Light. It will be good for Bud Light. I have a 30-year history with the exact same issue,” Yaverbaum said in an interview with Fox News.
Until Yaverbaum’s prediction proves to be accurate, Anheuser-Busch has attempted to salvage its relationship with wholesales distributors by sending each employee a free case of Bud Light beer. The company has also reassured customers that it will shift its marketing focus to sports and music, with senior executives overseeing all campaigns.
The outcry over Mulvaney and Bud Light’s partnership may cause public relations practitioners and marketing executives to rethink the way they navigate social issues moving forward. In an attempt to appeal to a larger audience, Anheuser-Busch unintentionally isolated its primary target audience, a move that many felt was inconsistent with the Bud Light brand and its values. The result: a public relations and marketing blunder that resulted in many once-ardent supporters saying farewell to the Bud Light brand. Only time will tell how this controversy impacts Anheuser-Busch’s reputation in the long term.