A Light Case Study

If you’re in marketing, public relations, or at least an avid social media viewer, then you know about the Bud Light fiasco. But, in case you missed it:

  • Bud Light partnered with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney
  • Bud Light received backlash from right-wing conservatives, most notably on social media
  • Anheuser-Busch lost $6 billion in market capitalization over the controversy

Here is a deeper dive into the Bud Light issue.

The Diversity and Inclusion Piece 

It’s no secret that many corporations portray themselves as inclusive to avoid cancel culture outrage. This isn’t true for all, but it keeps names out of the press. Bud Light and VP of Marketing Alissa Heinerscheid are really taking a hit over the decision to allow Dylan Mulvaney to be the face of the brand.

Heinerscheid became the first woman to lead Bud Light’s marketing in July 2022. This is a big deal for a brand like Bud Light, which appeals to mostly conservative males. Her goal was to make the brand more inclusive for everyone.

Considering Brand Target Audience 

Developing a marketing strategy includes analyzing the target audience and then, ultimately, giving them what they want and need. Bud Light is America’s best-selling domestic beer by a long shot. And, we don’t have to resort to a consumer report to see who the primary demographic of Bud Light drinkers is. All you need is a TikTok, an Instagram or a Twitter.

If your demographic is primarily conservative males. We have no comment on political views, but historically, this is just a fact. It seems fair to say that allowing a transgender influencer to partner with Bud Light was a bit of a leap for its target audience and backlash should have been expected.

Striking a Discord 

Let’s look at the two separate brands: the corporate brand Bud Light and the personal brand of Dylan Mulvaney.

  • Bud Light: Blue in color, but ironically appeals to the patriotic, right-wing red. Judging from their social media accounts, Bud Light appeals to sporting event attending, adult males looking for an affordable low-ish calorie option that reminds them of the American Dream. Under the umbrella of Anheuser-Busch.
  • Dylan Mulvaney: Breakfast at Tiffany’s fashion, newly female and aspiring actress. Appeals to people who believe in inclusivity and women supporting women. Aims to be an inspiration and fashion icon. Enjoys fancy craft cocktails.

The two could not be more different. Stepping out of the comfort zone to acquire new customers from new demographics and psychographics makes sense, especially for an established brand like Bud Light.

But, as we know, the rainbow beer left some people angry… angry enough to shoot a case of beer with a gun and immortalize the act on social media. Ironically, the marketing faux pas damaged Bud Light’s brand identity but likely strengthened Mulvaney’s. Mission not accomplished on Bud Light’s part.

Breaking it Down

What this entire situation really boils down to is knowing your audience. Diversity and inclusion are never something to turn down but it’s possible that this effort should have been focused internally (within the organization itself). Plenty of brands support gay rights now. Whether it’s because they feel they must or they really believe it, the end result is the same.

The people protesting Bud Light’s transgender support publicly on social media were sporting clothing brands that support gay rights…Were they aware that the Dodge trucks in the background of their protest posts were made by Dodge who (wait for it) has supported gay rights for quite some time?

The moral of the story is to know your audience, send your messages within your target audience’s zone of acceptance, and don’t push the envelope too much unless it makes sense for the brand. The result could be costly. More importantly, social issues do not exist to be exploited. Sensitivity to the issues of marginalized groups is crucial to consider.

Victoria Kendrick

Associate Account Executive

Victoria joined Sweeney as an Associate Account Executive in 2023. A graduate of the University of North Carolina Wilmington's communication studies department, Victoria brings to the team a strong writing skillset and an aptitude to dive deep into media relations and communications strategy, as well as learning new MarTech that will drive the future of marketing.