Bud Backlash? Report says sales falling after Mulvaney endorsement

On Monday, I wrote that there were reasons to be sceptical of an opinion poll showing a surge in support for Sinn Fein. The story was published at 10am. By 12.11am, there was at least one tweet in response to the story asking whether this writer had accepted a “big donation” from someone and was now “pushing an establishment narrative”.

The point of that little tale, my friends, is this: If you really want to believe something, you will find reasons to believe it and it will become as true to you as the gospels are to the most devout. In general, though, my own disposition is to be sceptical of things that I really want to believe.

Like this:

Bud Light sales have plunged and its distributors in the Midwest, the South, and rural areas are ‘spooked’ by backlash after the company partnered with trans TikToker Dylan Mulvaney.

Distributors for Anheuser-Busch products, the company that owns Bud Light, have reported dwindling sales over the weekend, according to trade publication Beer Business Daily.

It comes as a video of a man claiming to be a merchandiser for an A-B affiliate went viral on Twitter as he lamented poor sales and the impact on his livelihood.

‘I’ve never seen such little sales as in the past few days,’ he said. ‘When people don’t buy this beer I don’t make money and I can’t feed my family.’

I am sceptical in this case for a few reasons: First, there are obvious other reasons why “Bud Lite” sales might have fallen this weekend: Friday was Good Friday, and the USA is a much more religiously observant country than we are used to, here in Ireland. Note that there’s no data showing a surge in sales for any competitor beer. My first reaction would be “perhaps people just drink less beer, and go out drinking beer, less over the most holy weekend in the Christian calendar”.

Additionally, the biggest sporting event of the weekend in the USA was The Masters Golf tournament, which is a much more sedate affair than that of the previous weekend, which was the culmination of the “March Madness” collegiate basketball tournament. The Masters, its fair to say, draws far fewer American beer drinkers to bars than college basketball does.

In short, even without the Mulvaney controversy, one might have expected beer sales to be down, this past weekend. Especially with US college campuses largely emptied out for Easter.

Second, while I am certainly open to the idea that Bud Lite might have inflicted long term damage to its brand with the Mulvaney endorsement, I am sceptical that such brand damage would be instantaneous: To the very online culture warrior, things happen at the speed of light. To most people, though, word of a controversy takes a few weeks to filter through and be digested. The idea that a few hundred thousand loyal bud lite drinkers all reacted in unison to a TikTok video that only a fraction of them have likely seen as yet strikes me as a bit of right-wing wishcasting, rather than how these things usually work out.

But of course, narrative is important, and since this story produces something of a morale boost to one side in the US culture wars, it will be – unlike Bud Lite – eagerly swallowed by sections of the right.

All of that said, the sheer intensity of the backlash online and in US media does tend to lead me to believe that for once, Bud Lite might actually be a brand that does suffer for “going woke”. As I wrote on Monday, the endorsement from Mulvaney was particularly grotesque – celebrating his “365th anniversary of being a girl”. But more than that the thing that struck me about his performance in the ad was his feigned ignorance of what the above mentioned “March Madness” actually is: Mulvaney is just a girl, you see, she doesn’t understand sports:

To me, that’s a serious marketing error for a beer brand that traditionally gets drunk in raucous bars where sport is on the TV. Not only does it reinforce the harmful stereotype that girls don’t understand “man stuff” like sports, it also associates Bud Lite with a particular kind of girlish feminity that would traditionally have been the opposite of what a beer brand might do if it wanted to appeal to men. Pitching your beer as the drink of choice for a 1950s stepford wife just doesn’t seem like a smart move when 1950s stepford wives are largely extinct.

That is the other thing about Mulvaney: He is not just playing a woman, but a particular kind of woman. She’s ditzy. She likes fancy dresses and doesn’t get sports or cars. She smiles and does her hair and likes freshly folded laundry. If he’d wanted a better stage name, Mulvaney could have done worse than call himself Betty Rubble.

When you add that generalized brand mismanagement to the culture war outrage it has provoked, I think it reasonable to expect that Bud Lite will suffer. But I’m not entirely sure the backlash was as sudden, or as widespread, as the report above might suggest.

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