Bud Light may have failed in its attempt to expand its customer base by partnering with a powerful transgender man. But experts say inclusion marketing is just good business and it’s not going anywhere.
“In a few years, we’ll be looking back at this ‘controversy’ with the same embarrassment we feel when we look back at the ‘controversies’ of the past involving things like interracial couples in advertising,” said Sarah Reynolds, director of marketing. HiBob recruiting platform officer who self-identifies as queer.
On April 1, transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney posted a video on her Instagram page of herself opening Bud Light. She showed off a jar of her face that Bud Light sent her, one of the many corporate gifts she receives and shares with her millions of followers.
But unlike past gifts, such as a dress from Rent the Runway or a trip to Denmark from skincare brand Ole Henriksen, the backlash against the can of beer was quick and furious. Two days after Mulvaney’s post, Kid Rock posted a video of him removing boxes of Bud Light. Shares of Bud Light’s parent company, AB InBev, temporarily fell.
This week Anheuser-Busch – the US subsidiary of AB InBev – confirmed that Alyssa Heinerscheid, her VP of Marketing, and her boss Daniel Blake take a vacation. The company does not say when they will return or if they will be paid.
“Just Make a Beer”
For some, the partnership has gone too far at a time when transgender issues, including health care and participation in sports, are divisive in state legislatures.
“Whether the issue is transgender people or something else, most consumers are vocal about how they don’t want brands to lecture them or stuff their throats with politics or social issues,” said John Frigo, head of the division. digital marketing in Food at the best price. “If you’re selling beer, just make beer and leave it at that.”
But others, including Heinerscheid herself, say it’s critical to reach out to younger and more diverse consumers. According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 21% of Generation Z identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, compared to 3% of Baby Boomers. Gallup also found that younger consumers are more likely to want brands to promote diversity and take a stand on social issues.
“When I took over Bud Light, I had a very clear job. And so it was, this brand is in decline. It has been in decline for a very long time. Bud Light won’t have a future,” Heinerscheid said last month on an episode of Apple’s “Make Yourself at Home” podcast.
Bud Light and Mulvaney turned down requests for an interview with The Associated Press about the story.
Sharp drop in sales after controversy
Bud Light has long been America’s best-selling beer. But its U.S. sales are down 2% this year, part of a long decline as younger consumers flock to soda seltzer and other drinks, according to Bump Williams Consulting. These sales declined rapidly in April. In the week ending April 15, Bud Light sales were down 17% from the same week a year ago. Meanwhile, sales of competitors Miller Lite and Coors Lite rose by more than 17%.
Marketing experts say that perhaps the Bud Light experience will force other brands to rethink the use of transgender people in their advertising. Joanna Schwartz, a professor at Georgia State College and State University who teaches LGBTQ+ marketing, says companies will continue to seek to reach transgender consumers and their supporters, but may shift to social media and more targeted advertising.
“They are walking a very thin line. They want to please everyone, including people who don’t like each other,” Schwartz said of Bud Light.
Successful Ads with Inclusion
However, according to Schwartz, there are many brands that successfully use transgender or non-binary people in their marketing. In 2016, Secret deodorant ran an ad for a transgender woman in the shower debating whether or not to go out and meet other women at the sink. Pantene Shampoo showed ads and short films in support of transgender people in 2021 as part of its Hair Has No Gender project. And in the 2018 Super Bowl ad for Coca-Cola, young people used different pronouns to describe themselves.
Thomas Murphy, an associate professor of branding at Clark University, said he advises brands that want to be inclusive to advertise with real people who can speak to the company’s efforts.
“They may have employees who say, ‘I love Bud Light. I have been working here for 20 years, there are inclusive programs, and I came here because I wanted the company to accept me,” he said. “Who couldn’t see and hear this man and say, ‘What a great company’?”
Both sides are estranged
Instead, Bud Light alienated even transgender customers because it didn’t support Mulvaney after calls for a boycott began, Schwartz said. Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth issued a statement on April 14, but it did not specifically mention the controversy.
“We never intended to engage in a discussion that divides people,” Whitworth said.
By comparison, Nike, which also faced some boycott threats after shipping workout clothes to Mulvaney, supported the transgender community in an Instagram post, urging followers to be kind and inclusive. Nike did not respond to requests for comment.
Manveer Mann, associate professor of marketing at Montclair State University’s Feliciano School of Business, said Bud Light should have anticipated the backlash and had a plan to deal with it.
Nike learned that lesson in 2018 when an ad featured soccer player Colin Kaepernick protesting police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. Mann said that Nike briefly faced boycott threats but backed Kaepernick and its sales quickly recovered.
Mann believes Bud Light sales will eventually recover as well. But at the same time, it repels everyone, she said.
“The message from Bud Light is unclear. Is it related to your set of values or is it just a trend? said the man. “You have to know what your values are and what the values of the clients you are trying to reach are.”
Kirstie Alley and John Travolta never had a romantic relationship, but she initially didn’t want to.
Ellie, who died on Monday at the age of 71 after a short illness, often spoke about her feelings for Travolta, whom she called the “greatest love” of her life.
The couple starred together in the film franchise Look Who’s Talking (the first film was released in 1989). during 2018 appearance on Celebrity Big Brother UKEllie talked about how easy it is to fall in love with leading men.
She named two co-stars whom she said she had feelings for but never fully absorbed the attraction to: Patrick Swayze and Travolta.
“I almost ran away and married John. I loved him, I still love him, Alle said. “If I weren’t married, I would go and marry him, and I would fly on a plane, because he has [own plane.]”
The same year, she appeared on a reality show, the Cheers star also spoke about Travolta during talking about The Dan Wootton Interview podcast. She said not sleeping with the movie star was “the hardest decision I’ve ever made because I was madly in love with him.”
“We had fun and fun together,” she said. “It wasn’t a sexual relationship because I’m not going to cheat on my husband.”
At the time, Ellie was married to actor Parker Stevenson. The couple divorced in 1997.
In 2013, Ellie told Howard Stern that Travolta also had feelings for her, but did not act on them due to her marriage.
“It took me years to stop looking at John as a romantic person” She said.
Travolta married actress Kelly Preston in 1991. Ellie told Wooten that Preston insisted on her flirting with her husband.
“Kelly approached me when they were married and she said, ‘Why are you flirting with my husband?'” Ellie said. “And that was sort of when I had to make a decision, and that was pretty much the end of it.”
On Monday, Travolta paid tribute to Ellie on social media.