ST LOUIS, MISSOURI: A leading advertising expert excoriated Anheuser-Busch’s handling of the backlash to its Bud Light brand partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, saying it is way worse than just a marketing gaffe. Ben Schott, an advertising and brands expert, called the fiasco “a marketing case study for the ages” in “how not to handle brand collaborations in a dangerously polarized space.”
In a Bloomberg Opinion piece on Saturday, April 15, Schott ranked the Bud Light pickle among the worse brand “gaffes” in history, citing other examples such as the chairman of Barilla pasta’s 2013 declaration that he “would never do a commercial with a homosexual family,” and the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch saying in 2006 that the company only wanted to draw “cool” and “attractive” customers.
How Anheuser-Busch top brass was blindsided by potentially catastrophic Dylan Mulvaney campaign
James Rose: Dylan Mulvaney shares video of ‘twin’ amid Bud Light and Nike uproar
‘Worse than a gaffe’
“But Bud Light’s action is worse than a gaffe, it’s a betrayal,” Schott wrote, saying the brand retreated into “cowardly” silence as they left Mulvaney high and dry while the controversy blew out of proportion. “Bud Light actively and eagerly sought out a controversial influencer in a dangerously polarized space, with neither the wisdom to plan for a backlash nor the bravery to stand by its partner,” he continued. Schott expressed sympathy for Mulvaney and ridiculed Bud Light for using the trans star for a campaign and then abandoning her when all hell broke loose.
Anheuser-Busch was notably silent for nearly two weeks after the controversy erupted on April 1 and conservatives expressed outrage over the Mulvaney partnership. Country star Kid Rock shared a clip of himself shooting at cans of Bud Light, while fellow country singers John Rich and Travis Tritt publicly denounced the brand. Guitarist Ted Nugent even called the partnership a “middle finger to their core consumer demographic.” On the other hand, liberals pushed back against the backlash. Radio host Howard Stern called the outrage overblown while podcaster Joe Rogan called the fury over Mulvaney “goofy.” To make things worse, several bar owners vowed to stop selling Bud Light — at least temporarily — in a bid to prevent violence.
Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth finally broke the company’s silence on Friday afternoon, April 14, with a public statement titled, ‘Our Responsibility To America’. Whitworth wrote, “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.” The former Marine lieutenant, CIA officer, and Harvard Business School graduate did not directly address the Mulvaney partnership or issue an apology but expressed a desire to avoid divisive subjects. “I am responsible for ensuring every consumer feels proud of the beer we brew,” he said.
🚨BREAKING: The CEO of Anheuser Busch, Brendan Whitworth, releases a statement in the midst of boycotts following the Dylan Mulvaney controversy
“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.” pic.twitter.com/PC6vPPX25E
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) April 14, 2023
“My time serving this country taught me the importance of accountability and the values upon which America was founded: freedom, hard work, and respect for one another,” Whitworth continued. “As CEO of Anheuser-Busch, I am focused on building and protecting our remarkable history and heritage. I care deeply about this country, this company, our brands, and our partners. I spend much of my time traveling across America, listening to and learning from our customers, distributors, and others. Moving forward, I will continue to work tirelessly to bring great beers to consumers across our nation,” he added.
‘It says absolutely nothing’
Whitworth’s statement, however, drew further criticism toward the brand. “That statement is one of the worst statements I’ve ever seen,” Crisis communications expert Gerard Braud told the Daily Mail on Saturday, adding, “It says absolutely nothing… and it took 15 days to formulate it.” Schott also ripped the statement as “bizarrely convoluted and incongruously patriotic,” writing, “This is not so much a story about trans rights, Dylan Mulvaney, or internet outrage, as one about corporate bravery. Even Mulvaney’s harshest critics must acknowledge that she is standing tall in a hurricane of hate, taking the invective with remarkable poise. In cowardly contrast, Anheuser-Busch instantly retreated into the shadows.”