The number of people ordering Bud Lights from bars and restaurants across the country has plummeted in the weeks following the company’s partnership with Dylan Mulvaney.
Between early and mid-April, Bud Light donations fell 6 percent at 3,000 locations, according to research from technology firm Beer sign.
In comparison, between March 18 and April 1 — the two weeks before the transgender influencer partnered with the beer company — Bud Light actually outperformed its category by 15 percent.
On April 1, transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney posted a video of herself cracking open a Bud Light on her Instagram page. She showed off a can with her face on it that Bud Light sent her – one of the many business freebies she receives and shares with her millions of followers.
In the six days that followed, Anheuser-Busch lost more than $6 billion in market cap.
Between April 2 and April 15, Bud Light dropped from third to fourth in overall sales, according to BeerBoard data.
Bud Light has long been America’s best-selling beer. But U.S. sales are down 2 percent so far this year, part of a long-running decline as younger consumers flock to sparkling seltzers and other beverages, according to Bump Williams Consulting.
Cans of Bud Light beer are seen before a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Seattle Mariners, Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Mulvaney (left) was sent a personalized beer can to mark 365 days since her transition. Mulvaney documented her journey on TikTok and gained millions of online followers
Mulvaney, 26, announced the partnership in a series of videos posted to social media in early April 2023
Those declines in sales quickly accelerated in April. In the week ending April 15, Bud Light sales were down 17 percent from the same week a year ago.
Meanwhile, rivals Miller Lite and Coors Lite saw their sales increase by more than 17 percent.
Bud Light’s partnership with Mulvaney angered some customers and hurt sales, while the brand’s lack of support for the influencer infuriated the very people it was trying to reach.
Three days after Mulvaney’s post, Kid Rock posted a video of him photographing boxes of Bud Light. Shares of Bud Light’s parent company, AB InBev, temporarily plummeted and the company issued a terse statement in response to the controversy.
This week, Anheuser-Busch – the US subsidiary of AB InBev – confirmed that Alissa Heinerscheid, her vice president of marketing, and her boss, Daniel Blake, are going on leave.
The company won’t say when they’ll return or if they’ll be paid.
For some, the partnership went too far at a time when transgender issues — including gender-affirming health care and participation in sports — are a divisive topic in state legislatures.
“Whether transgender or otherwise, the majority of consumers are pretty outspoken about not wanting brands to lecture them or cram politics or social issues down their throats,” said John Frigo, head of digital marketing for Best Price Nutrition. “If you sell beer, just make beer and leave it at that.”
The Bud Light ad and Mulvaney’s partnership caused division in the US
But others — including Heinerscheid himself — say reaching younger and more diverse consumers is critical.
According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 21 percent of people in Generation Z identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, compared to 3 percent of baby boomers. Gallup has also found that younger consumers are most likely to want brands to promote diversity and take a stand on social issues.
“I clearly had work to do when I took over Bud Light. And it was, this brand is in decline. It has been in decline for a long time.
“And if we don’t attract young drinkers to this brand, there’s no future for Bud Light,” Heinerscheid said in an episode of Apple’s “Make Yourself at Home” podcast last month.
Marketing experts say Bud Light’s experience may lead other brands to reconsider using transgender people in their ads.
Joanna Schwartz, a professor at Georgia College and State University who teaches a course on LGBTQ+ marketing, said companies are still looking to reach transgender consumers and their supporters, but may be shifting to social media and more targeted advertising.
They walk an extremely thin line. They want to appeal to everyone, but that includes people who don’t like each other,” Schwartz said of Bud Light.
Still, Schwartz said, there are plenty of brands that have successfully incorporated transgender or nonbinary people into their marketing.
Whitworth issued a public statement two weeks after the controversy
Thomas Murphy, an associate professor of branding at Clark University, said he tells brands that want to be inclusive to run ads with real people who can talk about the company’s efforts.
“They may have employees who say, ‘I like Bud Light.’ I’ve been working here for 20 years, there are inclusive programs and I came here because I wanted a company that would embrace me,” he said. “Who couldn’t see and hear that person and say, ‘What great company’?”
On April 14, CEO Brendan Whitworth issued an apology.
“It was never our intention to be part of a discussion that divides people. Our job is to bring people together over a beer,” he said in a statement.
He added, “My time serving this country taught me the importance of accountability and the values on which America is founded: freedom, hard work, and respect for each other.”
“I care deeply about this country, this company, our brands and our partners,” he added.
“I spend much of my time traveling across America listening and learning from our customers, distributors and others. Going forward, I will continue to work tirelessly to bring great beers to consumers across our country.”
The Bud Light controversy isn’t the only one for Mulvaney. Some are calling for a boycott of makeup producer Maybelline after Mulvaney posted a video as a brand ambassador.
“Hey (Maybelline) Women have fought for years to get to where we are today, women’s rights are being taken back by these men, and you support it. Please let’s all born women (boycott maybelline) do,” one Twitter user posted.