Anheuser-Busch CEO Breaks Silence After Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney Controversy
Anheuser-Busch CEO Breaks Silence After Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney Controversy

By Jack Phillips

Anheuser-Busch’s chief executive on Friday issued a statement amid Bud Light’s controversy over its sponsorship deal with transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney.

It was the first public statement issued by the top executive since controversy started brewing over the campaign, announced by Mulvaney earlier this month. Mulvaney’s likeness was placed on cans of Bud Light as part of the sponsorship deal, prompting industry analysts to issue warnings.

“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Brendan Whitworth said in press release. “We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.”

Whitworth did not specifically mention Mulvaney, Bud Light, or transgender issues. And he did not address reports, citing anonymous sources, that claimed company executives were kept in the dark about the Mulvaney sponsorship deal. He also did not address reports of boycotts or distributors being worried about low sales.

“I care deeply about this country, this company, our brands and our partners. I spend much of my time traveling across America, listening to and learning from our customers, distributors and others,” his statement said. “Moving forward, I will continue to work tirelessly to bring great beers to consumers across our nation.”

Some Bud Light and Anheuser-Busch distributors around the country have expressed alarm over the deal, with one report saying that a number of bars have refused to serve Bud Light. Country singer and Nashville bar owner John Rich, meanwhile, told Fox News earlier this week that his bar won’t sell the beer.

Previously, Anheuser-Busch issued a statement to news outlets and defended its move to hire Mulvaney, who also has reported deals with Nike and other brands.

“Anheuser-Busch works with hundreds of influencers across our brands as one of many ways to authentically connect with audiences across various demographics,” a spokesperson said earlier this month in response to the backlash.

Industry analysts with the Beer Business Daily wrote that “the intense opposition to Mulvaney promoting the beer has been alarming to Anheuser-Busch distributors, which placed fewer orders after the partnership sparked outrage from conservatives who argued the company is pushing ‘gender propaganda.’”

“We reached out to a handful of A-B [Anheuser-Busch] distributors who were spooked, most particularly in the Heartland and the South, and even then in their more rural areas,” the publication said.

Brand Damage

Some analysts and investors said that the damage likely won’t sink Anheuser-Busch, but the damage has been done to the Bud Light brand.

The logo of Anheuser-Busch InBev pictured outside the brewer’s headquarters in Leuven, Belgium, on Feb. 28, 2019. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

“I simply don’t understand why they hired the person who was doing the marketing,” Oxygen Financial CEO Ted Jenkin told Fox News Thursday. “I mean, if your target customer is Kid Rock, and then all of a sudden you decide to go to RuPaul, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Because Bud Light generally targets “blue-collar workers and younger adults that are 25 to 29 years old,” the campaign should be problematic for the firm. “So, I don’t think that this one campaign is going to colossally destroy the brand,” it said.

“But certainly short term, it puts doubt into their loyal drinkers of Bud Light to say, ‘Do I want to continue to be drinking Bud Light based upon who they’re showing representing Bud Light?’” he asked. “Anytime a company puts on a national spokesperson that has backlash, it certainly can affect your business.”

A research fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research wrote this week that Anheuser-Busch is owned by InBev, a multinational conglomerate worth tens of billions of dollars. One product, he wrote, won’t do a huge amount of damage to the brand or value.

“But that seems like a plausible result. The Venn diagram of people interested in drinking Bud Light and those eager to support the issue at the sharp edge of the wokist culture war is pretty much just two circles vaguely near one another,” Shepard wrote. “While InBev investors won’t suffer too much, distributors of AB products and others who do business with the company surely will.”

Shepard further stipulated in the article that the “bottom-line effects of wokeness are clearer at other American companies that have abandoned fiduciary duty for politics,” referring to large corporations’ having adopted left-wing talking points and narratives around race and sex.

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