Opinion: Bud Light meltdown is good for U.S.
We should all be grateful to Anheuser-Busch.
Some corporation had to show how “woke” marketing could cost an iconic American brand dearly in terms of its image, its sales and its market capitalization.
Through its special beer can produced for transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, Anheuser-Busch, in effect, volunteered for duty.
The CEO of General Motors didn’t really say in the 1950s that what’s good for GM is good for the country.
Still, to paraphrase the famous misquote of auto executive Charles Wilson, what’s terrible for Bud Light sales is now good for America. With every viral anti-Bud Light video and 12-pack moldering on a store shelf or in a warehouse, the message is being sent to other corporations that they may come to regret their gratuitous forays into the culture war.
Now, Target has directly learned the same lesson with its Pride apparel, and has removed some clothes and made associated displays less prominent. Coupled with the ongoing contention over Disney, whose image has taken a big hit among Republicans, the flare-ups raise the prospect that we’ve entered a new era of conservative consumer power.
There’s no doubt that the rise of social media has made it possible to spread the word quickly about controversies, and conservatives are newly attuned to how corporations can trespass against their values and interests.
That said, the recent boycott successes are not necessarily replicable.
Bud Light proved uniquely vulnerable. Its image was of an all-American product, the go-to beer for barbecues, hunting trips and ballgames — as easily enjoyed and uncontroversial as a flyover on the Fourth of July.
The Dylan Mulvaney promotion was hilariously off-brand. Why should a beer company, especially an unpretentious, mass-market beer company, be associating itself with Mulvaney? What is it about Mulvaney that says “beer” or “Middle America”?
Mulvaney made it worse by creating indelible, cringe-inducing imagery, dressing like Holly Golightly from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with a bunch of Bud Light in one video and relaxing in a bathtub in another.
What’s transpired is more than a boycott; Bud Light has become a national joke. It’s signature blue-and-white cans and bottles now stand for ineptitude and out-of-touch marketing. Picking up a six-pack shows that you aren’t in on the joke.
The advantage of Bud Light was that it was widely known and readily available; the problem is that its competitors are just as readily available, and once someone stops to think about it, it’s just as easy to pick up the Coors Light or something else right next to the Bud Light on the shelf or in the refrigerator. Sure enough, as of April 15, Bud Light’s U.S. retail-store sales dropped 17% from the year prior and sales of Coors Light and Miller Lite each grew 17%, according to The Wall Street Journal.
As for Target, even if it doesn’t get hit as hard Anheuser-Busch, it is a low-margin business that can’t afford unnecessary consumer turbulence.
On the other end of the spectrum are difficult-to-boycott entities like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who embraced an anti-Catholic gay activist group. The offended Dodgers fan may strenuously object but can’t just up and start rooting for the Los Angeles Angels.
The best outcome of all this would be if corporations realize the potential hazards of going along with the woke cultural tide and resolve to stick to the 50-yard line of American national life. No one is going to care if a boutique brand based somewhere in blue America associates itself with every new progressive cause. It’s the companies that are firmly in the mainstream that shouldn’t needlessly alienate people or takes sides in battles that have nothing to do with their core business.
Bud Light is an ongoing warning of the perils. Surely, it’s not the future old Adolphus Busch imagined for his company, but it’s useful all the same.
— Rich Lowry is a columnist for King Features Syndicate.