Bud Light continues to face backlash more than a month after its polarizing pact with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney prompted outrage from conservatives that an industry guru believes was one of the biggest social media misfires of all time.
The saga began when Mulvaney publicized that the beer company sent packs of Bud Light featuring the influencer’s face as a way to celebrate a full year of “girlhood.” Mulvaney said the cans were her “most prized possession” on Instagram with a post that featured “#budlightpartner.” The backlash was swift and parent company Anheuser-Busch has been faced with plummeting sales as a result, losing some $5 billion in market value.
“In my career, and from what I’ve seen, this is by far been one of the most polarizing instances within the social media space,” Viral Nation marketing strategist Emma Ferrara told Fox News Digital.
Ferrara believes Bud Light should have approached the attempt to reach the transgender community, or new customers of any kind, more strategically.
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“When you’re looking to connect with a new community, which I think is incredibly important, I think there is a right and wrong way to approach that. And it starts with understanding who your core audience is,” she said. “It starts with also understanding who is your brand and what are your values and what’s your purpose.”
Ferrara feels Bud Light should have figured out how to connect its once-loyal consumer base with the community it was trying to reach, which the beer making seemingly failed to do. Once-proud consumers across America were outraged that Bud Light celebrated a full year of “girlhood” with a transgendered person, which has emerged as one of the most polarizing issues in America.
Many have scolded Bud Light over the partnership, with everything from blue collar Americans boycotting the product to conservative rock star Kid Rock using several Bud Light cases for target practice.
Ferrara thinks Bud Light would have been better off bringing in a “real, authentic and credible fan of Bud Light” within the transgender community if it wanted to reach that demographic, as Mulvaney didn’t feel like an authentic consumer of the product.
“Brands need to be aware that the transgender community is not a monolith, and individuals within that community have, you know, many different experiences and perspectives and identities,” Ferrara said. “That means brands need to conduct thorough research and gain a deep understanding of the nuances within that community. And as well, I think there should have been some steps to really understand their current community and how they feel around that topic.”
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The Bud Light situation has been at the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist for over a month, and has been a fixture among conservative talking points in recent weeks.
“This very much ties back to the notion that not all publicity is good publicity,” Ferrara said.
Things have gotten so ugly that Anheuser-Busch’s CEO Michel Doukeris addressed the ordeal on an earnings call with investors on Thursday. He downplayed the brand’s partnership, and insisted there is “misinformation” spreading on social media about the company’s team-up with Mulvaney.
“We need to clarify the facts that this was one can, one influencer, one post and not a campaign,” Doukeris said, noting that the company has provided “direct financial support” to the frontline workers impacted by the boycott, naming delivery drivers, sales representatives, wholesalers, bar owners and servers.
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Ferrara thinks Doukeris’ comments missed the mark.
“I really am of the belief that there is no such thing as a small post, or one post, or diminishing the meaning behind that. I do believe that there was an effort to connect with the community and one that, I think, just came about in the wrong way because it was inauthentic, and it wasn’t credible,” she said.
“When we think about the social space and when we think about partnerships and when we think about diverse groups and creators, including those from the transgender community, I think it’s really important for brands to take a step back to ensure that they’re relevant, they’re authentic and they’re credible in regard to the brand’s need to really develop a thoughtful and nuanced strategy around this,” Ferrara continued. “I think it’s important that you have the right experts to help you navigate and understand what is the best way to meaningfully connect, and is it even the right community to connect to?”
During Thursday’s call, Doukeris said it was too early to tell how the boycott affected Bud Light sales but was bullish that Anheuser-Busch will quickly recover from any setback. He reminded investors that the company has navigated global challenges including temporary bans on beer sales in certain countries and shutdowns of bars and restaurants across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The backlash has also led Bud Light to shake up its marketing team.
Fox Business Network’s Chris Pandolfo contributed to this report.