The recent Bud Light marketing campaign failure was a combination of many factors, that were done wrong from the beginning.
Executives at Bud Light should have seen the red flags back in February when the newly hired VP of Marketing Alissa Heinerscheid gave an interview about the new era of marketing for Bud Light published in Forbes.
Article in Forbes: Bud Light Signals New Era In Marketing.
In this article, there are 2 quotes that caught my attention. Let me transcribe both quotes:
“This campaign is meant to feel different, to be lighter and brighter, with a confidence and magnetism, and it’s really critical to depict real people and real places,” she says. “What I need to do to help this brand to evolve… this is my passion point.”
Heinerscheid says Bud Light, as a brand, has been “everything to everyone, and as a result, we’ve not been (mindful) about where it shows up.” As a mother, Heinerscheid says, one strategic priority was to make sure that women were represented. “Female representation is a personal passion point of mine,” she says.
I have been a marketing professional for 34 years, and have worked with companies like Coca-Cola, Heineken, and more recently Carib Beer.
Although, women are beer consumers, especially in the light category, male consumer account for the mayor consumer base.
In her statement, Heinerscheid talks about evolving the brand and female representation as the new strategy for the Bud Light campaign. Using Dylan Mulvaney as the icon for female representation, not only failed, but also insulted the female customer base. Furthermore, being a trans woman annoyed Bud Light male mainstream consumers.
Bud Light simply ignored the mainstream audience
I get it! In marketing, you should be creative and pursue innovation. However, this doesn’t mean you should go crazy.
In the era of digital marketing, I have stressed over and over again, that the rhetoric about a brand is not controlled by the brand anymore. This power has been given to the shopper and consumer since the surge of social media channels.
Heinerscheid and her marketing team made one of the biggest mistakes in marketing. They trampled over the values of their loyal customer base.
In what mind did they think that using a trans woman as the image of the brand would resonate with the conservative male Americans, who are the majority of Bud Light consumers? Bud Light did not think this through.
This mistake has caused a phenomenon that I do not think Bud Light will ever recover from.
Everyone is calling this a boycott, but it actually goes deeper than this. It is a rebranding of Bud Light done by the consumer. Unless the trans community in the USA becomes the new Bud Light consumer base, I don’t see a way back for this new brand positioning. Additionally, the PR campaign to manage the damage was also handled by complete morons (more on this ahead).
When your consumer base drops your brand and causes it to lose 26% in sales in a blink of an eye, it is close to impossible to bounce back.
Former Bud Light customers are not only actively positioning Bud Light as the trans beer, but also are willing to go out of their way to stop buying Bud Light. And Anheuser-Busch (InBev) has really felt this.
Although it was not the best beer according to connoisseurs, it was the most popular brand in the USA and the main player in sporting events. This is now a thing of the past. This has been last week’s trend, and it doesn’t seem to change.
As an example, you can see this deserted Bud Light beer stand at Fenway Park which went viral 3 days ago, having over 5 million video views so far.
Bud Light should stick to brewing beer
From Alissa Heinerssheid´s statement in the article, I see an example of the new generation of marketers, that are blinded by the games of social movement and politics, and so desperate to play the inclusivity card no matter what.
From her words in her Forbes interview, I understand that she was more concerned about making an inclusivity statement, rather than appealing to the real mainstream customer base, which she clearly doesn’t understand. However, she goes on to say that Bud Light is a brand she loves.
Sorry, but in my long years of marketing, before you can love a brand you need to understand it along with its consumers. Here she clearly missed the mark. This is Marketing 101.
I, personally, don’t have any issues with anybody’s preferences and rights. Everybody is entitled to claim or identify with whatever floats their boat. This is, however, a 2-way street, and a brand getting on board with polemic issues, has never proven to be a good bet.
Brands should stick to manufacturing and selling their product to their Buyer Personas. They should stay out of politics and social causes.
Why do I strongly recommend this? It is simple.
When a brand engages in a political, religious, or social movement, it will eventually have to pick a side. When this happens, you better pick the side where most of your customer base is. Bud Light picked the wrong side, and this will go down in history as a perfect example of supporting a social movement that is at odds with the consumer base.
Bud Light´s ego got In the way
There is a perfectly crafted word in German to explain situations like this, “Schlimmbesserung”.
It essentially refers to making an already bad situation worse by trying to improve it. This is the case with Bud Light, dealing with the fallout.
PR is an important part of marketing because it affects your brand perception.
We all make mistakes, and marketing strategies are no exception. When mistakes like the Bud Light Campaign happen, usually doing nothing is a suitable option. However, in this case, the best course of action is to own your mistakes and apologize.
The Bud Light CEO and his VP of Marketing let their ego get the best of them.
VP Heinerscheid doubled down on her vision for the campaign, and in doing so, she criticized the customer base, calling it a “hangover of fratty guys“, and came across to consumers as hating what the brand stands for.
Additionally, Bud Light silenced its customer base by blocking comments on social media.
To make things worse, Michel Doukeris, CEO of Budweiser, tried to play down the incident that further disappointed the consumer, instead of offering a simple apology.
Will Bud Light survive this?
This series of events over the past few days has been a remarkable case study about branding and buyer personas.
I honestly don’t see a way on how the Bud Light brand can recover from this. Only time will tell if I am mistaken.
For now, Yuengling, Coors Light, and Miller are occupying the vacuum left by Bud Light. Going forward, these 3 brands will defend this shift with blood and sweat, making it even harder for Bud Light to bounce back. You can be sure of that. The consumer base on social media is already embracing these competing brands.
Going back to Bud Light, it still surprises me how such big brands make these kinds of mistakes.
In my 20+ years working as a marketing agency for Coca-Cola, we encountered our fair share of PR challenges. Thankfully, not as massive as a big branding scandal. This Bud Light case should be taken as a teaching moment and learn from it. However, some brands out there seem not to be getting the message.
Today I saw an Anthropologie campaign using a man to promote women’s clothes. Customers were so upset that the brand turned off comments on their social channels. Sound familiar?
Brands should be less hypocritical. First, they play the “We are inclusive” card, as soon as this hurts their branding or bottom line, they censor comments by turning them off on SM.
Is Marketing going crazy? Wasn’t Bud Light a lesson for other brands?
What do you think?
Bud Light brand analysis
Here is the DNA for Bud Light. After going through it, do you think the Bud Light campaign with Dylan Mulvany was the right move? Please share your thoughts.
Brand DNA of Bud Light can be described through the following key elements:
Brand essence: Bud Light is all about delivering “refreshing, easy-drinking fun.” The brand embodies a light-hearted, carefree, and approachable spirit that appeals to a wide range of consumers.
Target audience: Bud Light primarily targets young adults, aged 21-35, who enjoy casual social gatherings and seek a lighter, more refreshing beer option. The brand appeals to both male and female consumers who appreciate an uncomplicated, easy-going drinking experience.
Brand personality: Bud Light has a friendly, fun, and approachable personality. It is often associated with humor, wit, and a laid-back attitude, as showcased in its advertising campaigns, packaging design, and promotional events.
Brand positioning: Bud Light positions itself as a light, refreshing, and easily drinkable beer for social occasions. Its core messaging revolves around being the go-to beer for bringing friends together and having a good time. It distinguishes itself from competitors with its unique taste, lower calorie count, and lighter alcohol content.
Visual identity: Bud Light’s visual identity is characterized by a clean, simple, and modern design. Its iconic blue color scheme, combined with the brand’s bold logo, creates a strong, recognizable presence in the market.
Brand values: Bud Light’s brand values center around providing quality, enjoyment, and social connection. The brand consistently seeks to innovate and improve its products while maintaining a commitment to its customers’ satisfaction.
Advertising and marketing: Bud Light’s advertising campaigns are known for their humor, light-heartedness, and memorable catchphrases. These campaigns often feature relatable characters and situations that resonate with their target audience. Additionally, Bud Light frequently partners with major sports leagues, music festivals, and other events to maintain its strong presence in the public eye.
Until next time.