The beer company has been in the midst of a storm after it partnered with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, who posted two Instagram posts about Bud light customer service and a video on TikTok showing a can of the beer that had her face on it. The post sparked backlash from conservative media and social-media users, and the beer maker’s shares temporarily plummeted. The parent company of Bud Light, AB InBev, put VP of marketing Alissa Heinerscheid and group VP Daniel Blake—who oversaw marketing for the company’s mainstream brands—on leave.
Heinerscheid has since issued an apology, stating that the partnership with Mulvaney was “ill-conceived,” and the company is pulling the ad. The brewer has also promised to triple its US marketing spending this summer, according to the Wall Street Journal. And a new ad features a Clydesdale galloping past landmarks, such as the Lincoln Memorial.
Despite the publicity, it’s unlikely that sales of Bud Light have been drastically affected by the incident. During the week ending April 15, the beer’s US retail sales declined only 17% year-over-year, per an analysis by Bump Williams Consulting cited in the Journal. Meanwhile, rivals Miller Lite and Coors Light saw their sales increase by 8% and 10%, respectively.
In a conference call with investors last week, AB InBev CEO Michel Doukeris downplayed the controversy, saying Bud Light’s declining sales in the first three weeks of April represented only 1% of its total volume. Doukeris also denied that the brewery had fired its entire marketing department, and said claims of Bud Light cans being rolled out with LGBTQ Pride-themed pronouns were incorrect. The cans were part of a year-old campaign in Canada, and not the current Bud Light cans, he added.
However, some analysts believe the incident will lead to a decrease in brand loyalty. Anheuser-Busch InBev NPS (net promoter score) is the lowest among the big four brewing companies, with a score of 48 out of 100. Its NPS is highest among female customers, and the lowest among Caucasian ones. It’s also one of the lowest among millennials and Gen Z—who are the demographic most likely to drink Bud Light. In addition, the brand has been under pressure from customers who want to boycott it for supporting Mulvaney and for its advertising campaigns featuring transgender people. This could further affect the brand’s reputation and sales. Nevertheless, some experts believe the controversy might force other companies to rethink their use of LGBTQ marketing and ads, particularly in states where lawmakers are proposing laws that would restrict drag shows and limit the lives of young transgender students. Some say this could push the beer industry toward a more nuanced marketing strategy, aimed at a wide range of LGBTQ consumers.