In response to backlash about Bud Light’s content integration with Dylan Mulvaney, Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth shared a vaguely apologetic and coded letter, presumably to soothe brand critics. The statement has created a new wave of commentary, criticism, and complications.
In short, the brand made a play for younger consumers and, in response to rapid reactions, rapidly retreated.
It’s a case study of don’ts on many fronts, including:
- Brand purpose
- Working with influencers
- Securing executive alignment
- Issues/crisis scenario planning
There are good takes from many folks on this today.
Writing for Bloomberg, Ben Schott minces no words: “One of the world’s biggest beer brands just set a new low in corporate courage.”
Paul Holmes, founder of PRovoke Media, shared some takes on this over the weekend and in an editorial published this morning (behind a paywall, but much of it excerpted on his Twitter account).
Here’s the crux of it for Holmes: “If you don’t have any values — or if you are willing to run away from them the moment they are challenged — maybe purpose-driven marketing is not for you.”
Holmes also flags implications for employee communications: “The people Whitworth really needs to worry about are AB employees. You’ve been telling them you care about diversity. You’ve been bragging about your inclusive workplace. And yet here you are….”
These massive consumer brand snafus offer good reminders for communicators in every category. Here are a few:
- Brands can’t dabble in purpose when it feels convenient. Stand up for your choices, or don’t choose at all. If Bud Light is “in the business of bringing people together over a beer,” running headfirst into a potentially divisive issue makes little sense without a commitment to the conversation.
- Calculate the risks and rewards. Game out response scenarios for clarity and alignment. If you’re going to borrow equity from influencers, prepare to pay it back with interest.
- If you’re apologizing, be clear why. “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people” is disingenuous and reeks of consciousness of guilt.
Like a bad beer hangover, this is a self-inflicted wound. Bud Light. Easy to Drink. Easy to Enjoy. Now with less backbone.