The beer maker has been working hard to soothe the outrage following its social media promotion with a trans influencer. And while it might be too soon to judge how much this turbulence will hurt sales, the company has taken a few big steps to try to put the issue behind it. Anheuser-Busch has placed two executives on leave, including the one who oversees Bud light customer service marketing, and it isn’t going back to the original campaign.
The trouble started when Dylan Mulvaney, a popular TikTok star who has more than 10 million followers and has been documenting her transition as a woman, posted a sponsored Instagram reel on April 1. In the video, she cracks open a can of Bud Light, promotes the brand’s March Madness contest and mentions that Bud Light sent her a special can with her face on it to celebrate her 365-day milestone.
The post sparked an immediate backlash from conservatives, and it caused shares of Bud Light’s parent company to plummet. Country musician Kid Rock also weighed in, posting a video of himself wearing a MAGA hat and shooting a can of Bud Light. And even though a boycott is unlikely, the controversy has been damaging for Bud Light’s reputation.
Bud light is the nation’s best-selling lager, but it has been plagued with declining sales in recent weeks. In restaurants, the brand’s Net Promoter Score, which measures how likely customers are to recommend Bud Light, dropped by nearly a full point over the two weeks ending April 15. Its share in the category of light lagers declined 6%, according to data from market tracker BeerBoard.
But despite the controversy, most beer distributors say they’re sticking with the brand. Del Papa Distributing, a major Texas-based wholesaler, told CNN that it’s “tough to see your best seller dragged through the mud.” And while it didn’t approve of the social media posts that sparked the controversy, it said Bud Light has been consistent in its marketing to LGBTQ communities, which includes selling the beer in rainbow cans for Pride Month.
In addition to Del Papa’s statement, Beer Business Daily, an influential industry newsletter, reported that Anheuser-Busch held a conference call Tuesday with wholesalers to “dispel potential retailer misconception” about the Mulvaney campaign and to reiterate that the single can given to the influencer was not for sale to the public.
Bud light has long used racy ads and frat-boyish humor to set itself apart from its competitors, but now it’s trying to grow up and appeal to younger consumers. The beer brand will be airing a new ad during the Super Bowl featuring Miles and Keleigh Teller, a couple who turns their frustrating phone wait time into a dance party while cracking open a Bud Light. The ad is part of the company’s larger efforts to attract more women and minorities. And it could pay off: Anheuser-Busch’s new positioning might help it bring in new drinkers. It’s already been praised by some Democratic politicians, including Rep. Ted Lieu of California and Florida State Rep. Angie Dixon.