At first glance, you might think that a 10% drop in the sales of Bud Light after the company aired that advertisement with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney isn’t that much. But the thing to understand about this story is that it’s not ten per cent of sales of Bud Light: It’s ten per cent of sales across the entire Anheuser-Busch portfolio of brands. Which means the hit to Bud Light is much, much greater than 10%:
The world’s biggest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, revealed that US revenues dropped by 10.5pc in the second quarter of the year.
It said that an increase in global revenues of 7.2pc to $14.8bn (£11.7bn) had been “partially offset by the revenue decline of Bud Light in the US”.
AB InBev infuriated some of its most loyal, more conservative customers with its decision to partner transgender TikTok personality Dylan Mulvaney to attract younger drinkers.
The decision was criticised as tone deaf by everyone from Tucker Carlson to Kid Rock.
To put these figures in context, consider for a moment the media whooping and hollering and oh-my-god-that’s-massive-ing that occurred some months ago when Fox News was (correctly) penalised to the tune of $700m for the choice it made to lie to its own viewers about the 2020 US General Election. Anheuser Busch, for the Mulvaney ad, appears to have lost about twice that in a single three-month period – about $1.4billion. It is a bigger company, of course, but that kind of money is extraordinary by any measure. Consider also that the Barbie Movie – widely considered to be an extraordinary hit with the viewing public, has grossed just $811m. At a very rough level, that means that the Barbie audience is likely dwarfed by the number of people worldwide who’ve said, over the past few months, Bud Light? No thanks.
The more optimistic right wing culture warriors amongst you might think that this moment heralds a new dawn, and that as a result, so called woke marketeers will think twice before embracing this kind of nonsense advertising again. You’d be wrong, I fear: I’d say it’s about as likely as it is that Fox News will stop pandering to its audience about election integrity. All for a simple reason.
The general public understanding of large companies is that they exist to make money, and that everything they do is geared towards that purpose. But this mis-understands the nature of large organisations: The bigger they get, the less focused they become on their original mission. This is equally true of Government organisations, and private sector companies. The HSE exists to provide a health service, but it spends millions of euros every year subsidising LGBT awareness campaigns about bullying, and other things not related to providing a health service. Big companies exist to make a profit, but the larger they get, the more they also exist to enhance the relative social status of their employees and senior management. We’re making a difference is not, after all, what shareholders want to hear – but you hear that a lot more than “We’re making a profit”.
In this case, I suspect, the Mulvaney ad was much less about increasing sales of Bud Light and much more about increasing the social capital of Bud Light’s marketing team in the relatively progressive social circles such people tend to occupy. “Yeah, we brought in Dylan Mulvaney, because I think trans visibility is so important” is a sentence I can well imagine being uttered.
And this is the thing about so-called “Corporate Social Responsibility”. One of the things it has done, by making companies into political actors, has been to make positions in large companies particularly attractive to the kind of left-winger who would, in a previous era, have disdained working for “the man”. Because now, “the man” can be made serve “the cause”. If there’s been a more significant political shift in my lifetime than the left’s attitude to big corporations, I don’t know what it is.
Just twenty years ago, for example, it was de rigueur on College Campuses to organise boycotts of Nestle and Coca Cola for the alleged crime of exploiting poor cocoa farmers in the third world. You don’t hear much about that today, but both companies now issue annual reports about Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion, bragging about the number of western women and minorities they employ, and all of the NGOs to which they contribute.
In other words, this advertising is not for you, the consumer: It’s better understood as protection money for the one-time tormentors of big corporations on the left. See? They say – we’re one of you.
The problem for Bud Light, this time, is that other people noticed.
Yes, you are one of them. And not, their customers realised, one of us.
That’s going to keep happening, I suspect.