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Inclusive Marketing: A Bud Light Case Study

On April 1st, 2023, transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney posted a video on Instagram presenting a custom Bud Light can featuring her image. The custom can celebrates Mulvaney’s one-year anniversary of transitioning to being a woman. While the marketing move was lauded by Mulvaney’s followers and supporters of the LGBTQ community, others were critical of the company.

As the controversy extended into late April and beyond, people can agree on one thing in particular: Annheuser-Busch’s response to the backlash leaves something to be desired. But why has the biggest and most successful beer brand in America struggled to resolve this story? And what marketing lessons can other companies take from this experience?

Bug Light’s Digital Marketing Crisis

The origins of Bud Light’s marketing controversy are fairly mundane. The company regularly partners with prominent online influencers for brand visibility. As part of a promotion for a March Madness contest, Dylan Mulvaney shared a sponsored video in which she revealed a custom, personalized can with her face on it. Bud Light did not distribute the can for retail purchases. 

In the days that followed, the company came under heavy scrutiny online. On April 14th, Annheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth issued a press release. In it, he made the following statement:

“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.

My time serving this country taught me the importance of accountability and the values upon which America was founded: freedom, hard work, and respect for one another. As CEO of Anheuser-Busch, I am focused on building and protecting our remarkable history and heritage.”

While well-intentioned, this statement has only brought further scrutiny. The problem that many digital marketing experts have with this response is that it fails to take a stand.

Staying Prepared for Inclusive Marketing

The initial controversy stemmed from an act of inclusive marketing. Bud Light partnered with an influencer representing a marginalized community. In doing so, clients perceived Bud Light as aligning itself with that community. However, company critics noted that Bud Light should have been prepared for the ensuing controversy. 

Inclusive marketing is not a new concept, nor is Annheuser-Busch unfamiliar with inclusive marketing campaigns. In fact, many consumers have celebrated inclusive marketing campaigns for breaking ground or making strong statements. But companies do need to strike the right tone and prepare to defend their position when backlash occurs.

Bud Light’s response has resonated as unprepared, with the company now committing to spending more on marketing than in recent months. But, the company could have avoided this serious expenditure had they been more prepared to deal with the initial controversy.

Tips From an Online Marketing Agency: What Can We Learn?

The most important lesson that other companies can take from this saga is the importance of preparation and consistent messaging. Branding is crucial for any business that wants to succeed. A major component of effective branding is consistency, across both products and messaging.

The Bud Light controversy shouldn’t signal to other companies that they should avoid inclusive marketing. Inclusive marketing can still be highly effective, and a very crucial part of some brands’ images. Instead, this controversy highlights the importance of understanding your brand image and how it reflects in marketing content. 

The controversy originated from Annheuser-Busch making a statement in its promotional content. Due to Bud Light’s failure to address its statement, the controversy continues. In doing so, the company failed to take control of the narrative. This has allowed the controversy to extend into a crisis for the brand, prompting more spending for more advertising.

Most business owners will never need to think about a public controversy on a national scale. But even small business owners can learn some valuable lessons from this episode. Understanding how your company’s branding will resonate with all consumers, of varying demographics, is very important. Additionally, every company should have a thorough crisis management plan, just in case.

Reach Out to Web Content Development Today

If you would like to learn more about how to be successful in digital marketing, contact Web Content Development. Web Content Development is an online marketing agency that takes a personalized, hands-on approach to service every client’s unique needs. From reputation management and brand strategies to content management, WCD can help your business grow online in many ways.

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About the Author

Erica D’Arcangelo – De Silva

Erica D’Arcangelo – De Silva has worked in the Internet marketing industry for the last 20-years. Erica is the top-secret SEO weapon to marketing and advertising agencies in the world. She has generated over 300+ million in revenue for high-value brands such as Walmart, Pottery Barn, iRobot, Cutting Edge Firewood, Kelley Blue Book, and many more. Erica has custom-created more than 1,000 content, SEO, and marketing strategies which held the key to doubling and tripling online traffic, and marketing ROI. She has also authored a series of online publications including The Digital Branding Survival Guide, Million Dollar Marketing, 5 Steps to Increase Web Traffic by Blogging, and Repairing Your Online Reputation.