As Vox so eloquently summarized, earlier this month, “Bud Light sent a handful of beers to a trans influencer and all hell broke loose.”
It was part of a sweepstakes challenge of sorts and quickly caught the wrath of many of their core, blue-collar customers after the influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, published photos with her Buds on Instagram.
It likely wouldn’t have caused such a ruckus in years past. The beer cans with her face on them weren’t even for sale, just a small promotion.
But as we all know, with the advent of social media, things often go unexpectedly viral, and not always in a good way.
It backfired spectacularly. But not because they put a trans person on their cans. Yes, it pissed off some customers, but that could have led to new customers, and likely their old ones would have gotten over it eventually.
The big goof was what came after. To reassure the offended customers, they whipped out an overnight oozing-patriotic apology from their CEO, and an equally oozing-patriotic TV commercial to match, with every 1980’s Clydesdale Horse-Budweiser-Heartland-American-Flag cliche in the book.
Both came off as rather over-wrought.
Regardless of their stance, they shouldn’t have apologized. They should have owned it, or taken the moment to make beer out of lemons (in this case a few sour customers).
This is how Nike succeeded with the Colin Kaepernick controversy, despite the considerable backlash that came from certain quarters. Nike CEO, Phil Knight’s, attitude was, it’s far better to stand for something than stand for nothing. As Knight said in Fast Company:
“You can’t be afraid of offending people. You can’t try and go down the middle of the road. You have to take a stand on something…”
This is true regardless of which road you’re on.
The one bit of good news for Bud Light is this type of outrage rarely lasts longer than a news cycle. And to their credit, they a) tried a new experiment where they reached out in good faith to a traditionally marginalized demographic and b) learned a lot for next time.
It’s a good lesson for all of us. Don’t change with the wind. Pick the hill you want to die on, then be ready to defend it.