Several Anheuser-Busch facilities received threats after a social media promotion with a transgender influencer backfired. The company’s stock dropped and it placed its Bud Light VP of Marketing Alissa Heinerscheid and Daniel Blake, who oversees the company’s mainstream brands, on leave. But the beer maker says it’s not giving up on its LGBTQ-friendly outreach.
The company aims to make Bud Light more inclusive for nonbinary and transgender people, who have a huge buying power in the US. It has already rolled out special cans for Pride month and a limited-edition she/her beer in Canada, which aren’t for sale to the general public. Its new marketing campaign includes a rainbow-colored bottle with “She/Her” written on the label and a video featuring transgender comedian and activist Jenny Slate.
But the brand’s reversal could erode its support from LGBTQ-friendly consumers, experts warn. And it might not halt the spread of anti-transgender rhetoric in the US, including calls to restrict drag shows and require schools to out transgender students.
“If it’s going to be a long-term thing, you might want to start thinking about a different strategy,” said Joanna Schwartz, a professor at Georgia College and State University who teaches a class on LGBTQ marketing. For example, Bud Light might have to switch to a targeted advertising approach and focus on reaching millennials who are more sympathetic toward transgender people.
Another option for Bud light would be to find a new spokesperson, said Doreen Shanahan, a marketing professor at Pepperdine University. She pointed out that calls for a boycott can hurt a brand, especially if the backlash has a lasting effect on the brand’s reputation. In her experience, she says, it’s difficult to reclaim the trust and goodwill of consumers after a controversy like this.
But she also noted that, in her view, it’s likely the negative reaction and stock movement to Bud light will fade. And she noted that, in her research on consumer response to controversies, she’s found that boycotts typically don’t last long.
Still, Anheuser-Busch will have to work hard to win back the confidence of some irate distributors. The company experienced a 21% drop in sales of the beer in US retail stores during the week after Heinerscheid’s Instagram post. And in restaurants, Bud light’s sales were 6% lower than other light lagers. The brewery’s parent company, AB InBev, saw its shares plummet following the transgender controversy, Axios reported. But the company has been trying to ease frustrations by offering distributors free beer and by pledging to spend three times as much on Bud light’s marketing this summer as it previously planned. Bud light customer service