Nearly nine months after Bud Light was at the center of one of the biggest botches in advertising history, the beer’s sales are still down 30% per week compared to the same period ago. is one year old.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. The year kicked off with an expensive Super Bowl commercial featuring actor Miles Teller and a new slogan: “Easy to drink.” Easy to Enjoy” – which was supposed to mark a “new era” for the 40-year-old brand.
But a one-off sponsored Instagram post with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney last April attracted attention from the right, angered the left, derailed the brand’s year and cost it possibly permanent damage .
Core customers abandoned the brand, with some left-leaning customers also angered by parent company Anheuser-Busch’s limp response to transphobic backlash and its failure to support Mulvaney or the trans community.
Anheuser-Busch executives had to scramble. “We never intended to participate in a discussion that divides people. Our mission is to bring people together over beer,” AB US CEO Brendan Whitworth said in an April statement, which never mentioned details of the issue with Mulvany.
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Bud Light has had a year to forget.
This led the Human Rights Campaign to say it was “disturbed” by the company’s response, and AB was subsequently stripped of its top LGBTQ+ rating. “When we saw the company working with Dylan, it was a good sign. It was a sign of inclusion,” Jay Brown, senior vice president of programs, research and training at HRC, told CNN. “What really disturbed us was the company’s reaction once the backlash started happening.”
Shortly after Whitworth’s statement was released, the company said two vice presidents of marketing had taken leave. In June, he announced that he was ready to put the matter behind him. But that turned out to be just the start of a broader shake-up of its U.S. operations. Since then, AB announced about 400 staff layoffs in July and announced in November that its U.S. marketing director was also leaving the company.
Perhaps the biggest blow for Bud Light came in August when Mexican lager Modelo Especial dethroned Bud Light as the best-selling beer in the U.S. at grocery stores and breweries — a title the brand has widely held for over two decades – for the first time ever.
Bud Light’s crisis also gave a boost to sales at rivals including Molson Coors, with the brewer of Miller Lite and Coors Light reporting its best quarter of revenue since its 2005 merger.
All this was happening as AB’s profits painted a bleak picture for the beleaguered brand.
In its latest earnings report, the company reported a 13.5% decline in third-quarter U.S. revenue per 100 liters, a key measure of beer sales, for Bud Light. And sales to retailers were down nearly 17% “primarily due to declining Bud Light volume.”
In response to the controversy, AB severed its agreements with wholesalers, including sending checks to distributors and increasing the brand’s marketing spending with television commercials focused on the NFL and music.
In November, Bud Light announced it was becoming the “official beer partner of the UFC” in a record deal for the mixed martial arts league. Kid Rock, whose initial opposition was seen as a harbinger of the boycott, said he was done with it and was drinking the beer again.
Yet with weekly sales down and showing no signs of recovery, even some industry observers are surprised that Bud Light is still in this position.
“We’re all susceptible to an attention span that can quickly move from one thing to the next, which is why I didn’t think Bud Light’s losses would be as severe or as sustained as they have been summer,” said analyst Bryan Roth. for Feel Goods Company and editor-in-chief of the alcohol beverage newsletter Sightlines+, told CNN.
He added that the brand’s losses have remained “about the same since mid-May, so it’s clear that consumers have simply moved away from Bud Light as it has become a hot topic in pop culture and politics “.
The losses come as no surprise to Bump Williams, president and CEO of Bump Williams Consulting, who told CNN that Bud Light distributors “still feel insulted, offended and belittled by the company’s lack of apology.” and the insensitive comments about how little the company has apologized. Bud Light’s volume impacted its global business and volume trends.
Williams doesn’t think Bud Light “will fully recover its losses in 2024 and likely would have suffered larger declines” without the financial program it implemented with distributors that included issuing checks and even purchasing beer for drinkers in some bars. .
Impact on other brands
Bud Light’s loss is a win for other brands, including some in the AB family like Michelob Ultra, a fast-growing company. Williams said that “thank goodness” the low-carb beer was in a strong position before this, as his company’s analysis shows Michelob Ultra “taking back No. 1 brand positions in markets where Bud Light has fallen from grace.”
Other beers also see a benefit. Modelo Especial, Miller Lite, Coors Light, Yuengling Lager and Flight, as well as Pabst Blue Ribbon, have all gained dollars and volume at Bud Light’s expense in recent weeks, Williams said.
He added that he “sees no reason” why Modelo Especial would lose its title as the number one beer brand in the United States in terms of sales next year.
Looking ahead, 2024 will still be a struggle for Bud Light and its identity. Roth said customers will notice a shift from an identity that is inclusive and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community to one that is “incredibly generic” with some ads simply encouraging drinking Bud Light.
“Today’s consumers feel connected to brands because they represent ideas and values, not because a brewing company waves its hand and says that drinking its product will be ‘easy to enjoy,’” Roth said.
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