Damage Control: What Could Anheuser-Busch Have Done Differently?

Social media – and its controversies -- strikes again.

This time it’s Anheuser-Busch in the crosshairs after people on the political right called for a boycott of Bud Light because of the brand’s use of transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

With 1.8 million followers on Instagram—versus 372,000 for Bud Light—Mulvaney is part of the brand’s attempts to engage with younger consumers and females.

From a marketing standpoint, it’s possible to believe that the blowback will blow over and that the spirits colossus has much bigger issues to deal with.

"Anheuser-Busch needs to appeal to a younger audience to keep things fresh and new customers coming in,” David Baldwin, founder of the Baldwin& agency, tells Marketing Daily.



“I'm not sure the hateful response to what is a very small part of their overall marketing is representative of something real and long-term. And I'm guessing Budweiser/Bud Light have a lot more to deal with in the form of things like hard seltzers than a few guys with mics on Tik Tok and YouTube.”

Then there’s the public relations aspect of the controversy.

After nearly two weeks of public backlash, Anheuser-Busch issued a statement in which CEO Brendan Whitworth said the company “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.”

Whitworth neither apologized for the kerfuffle, nor did he defend the use of Mulvaney.

That seems to have made things worse, according to Danielle Wiley, the CEO of influencer marketing and digital advertising agency Sway Group.

In this Q&A, which is edited for brevity and clarity, Wiley draws on her previous experience at the Edelman public relations agency and her knowledge of the influencer space to assess what Anheuser-Busch could have done differently.

Marketing Daily: How should things work on the marketing side?

Wiley: When you hire a creator or influencer, it’s important to do a ton of research ahead of time, understand your brand’s values and make sure whoever you choose is aligned with them. Presumably they did this. Unless that creator does something egregious and unexpected and offensive, which Dylan didn’t do—all she did was continue living her life in the same way she had been living it—you stand behind them. Ultimately they are a spokesperson.

MarketingDaily: Should the brand have foreseen any of this?

Wiley: While I think in retrospect there was a lack of preparation, it’s not a surprise to anyone that transgender issues are a hot topic right now. To hire someone from a community where you know there’s already controversy and to be blindsided by a negative response seems like they went into it kind of naively.

Marketing Daily: What did you make of the company’s statement?

Wiley: I found it disappointing, because I think it undermines the choice of using her as part of this program, which was clearly something that was very well thought out and purposeful. They’re kind of trying to skirt the line and make everyone happy—while it probably succeeded in making no one happy.

Marketing Daily: Why is that?

Wiley: They’re getting hit from both sides. They got a ton of negative nonsense from one side and then they don’t stand behind the decision that they made to hire her and the content that was created. So now they’re upsetting the people who initially liked it, and no one’s happy.


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