Saying it would “never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior,” Anheuser-Busch yesterday withdrew one of the 140 “scroll messages” on Bud Light labels that appear to do just that after widespread protests that it was winking at rape culture. “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #upforwhatever,” the message reads.
“Some denizens of Reddit picked up on the label and reacted predictably, mocking not only the cloddishness of the label message, but Bud Light itself,” explains Dan Mitchell for Time. “‘No’” always means ‘No’,” one Redditor remarked, Mitchell continues. “Especially if the question is: do you want a Bud Light?” The implication is that Bud is encouraging drinkers to get stewed and go nuts.”
That was just the beginning.
“Protests quickly erupted in social media, criticizing what was perceived as perhaps not the best marketing language in the midst of public outcry over date rape on college campuses,” writes Stephanie Strom in the New York Times. Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y., @NiteLowey) was among those who protested on Twitter: “RT if you agree @budlight#UpForWhatever campaign should promote responsible — not reckless — drinking. #NoMeansNo.”
In an email to Strom, Lowey elaborated: “This grossly shortsighted marketing tactic shows an epic lack of understanding of the dangers associated with excessive alcohol consumption, such as sexual assault and drunk driving. We need responsible companies to help us tackle these serious public health and safety problems, not encourage them.”
Protests also erupted in lengthier pieces online, including those of traditional media sites.
“You have invested a great deal in trying to become the beer of spontaneity, of embracing life, of saying ‘Yes!’ instead of the beer that you drink because no other beer is available,” Alexandra Petri blogs — under the hed, “No, Bud Light. No.” — for the Washington Post. “But someone somewhere along the line in your advertising department should have said no. Really.”
How the message survived the vetting process perplexed many observers.
“The idea that any alcohol company ... was this clueless about the role alcohol plays in a large number of sexual assaults is unthinkable in 2015,” Jennifer Pozner, executive director of Women In Media & News, tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Lisa Brown. “It’s not a gray area, especially when you are in an industry that is endlessly criticized for the role your product plays in assaults. I think what they’re trying to do is position Bud Light as a beer for bad boys.”
“Did no one on the marketing team raise their hand on this one?” tweeted @TJ_Fixman, Rheana Murray recounts on Today.com.
It’s not the first time the #upforwhatever campaign has come under fire, Chris Morran points out on Consumerist, including “during the St. Patrick’s holiday in March when its Twitter account suggested that being ‘up for whatever’ meant randomly assaulting people on the street who dared to not wear green (and those who did wear green, because #UpForWhatever, right?).”
Morran continues: “The company apologized to those who ‘misunderstood’ its intentions, much like some people who turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ will probably be doing a lot of apologizing (possibly from behind bars) the next morning.”
Budweiser’s advertising has garnered both negative and positive attention for other executions of late. It’s attack on craft beer — “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale” — in a Super Bowl spot was roundly criticized as missing the mark. Its “Lost Dog,” however, took top honors in USA Today’s Ad Meter rankings — the second consecutive Super Bowl win for the brewer.
A sidebar on the A-B Newsroom page that contains the latest apology from Bud Light VP Alexander Lambrecht has links to two stories from early April about beer’s partnership with the dating app Tinder in a native video to promote the return of Whatever, USA.
“Last year … Bud Light created Whatever, USA in Crested Butte, Colo., where 1,000 of the brand's fans got to party with celebrities in the sleepy mountain town — much to the chagrin of the town's residents,” points outAdweek’s Kristina Monllos in one of the pieces.
To which, as seems to be its wont, Bud Light turned a tin ear.