In April, Kid Rock became the poster child of canceling “woke” Bud Light when he posted a video shooting 12-packs of the beer with an AR-15. “Fuck Bud Light, and fuck Anheuser-Busch,” he proudly proclaimed. Four months later, he seems to have gotten over it, as TMZ caught him drinking a Bud Light at a Colt Ford concert on August 17. “Canceling” a beer brand, it turns out, is just as temporary as “canceling” a person.
It all started because Dylan Mulvaney, who is transgender, posted a photo on Instagram on April 1 with a custom can of Bud Light. Some, notably the same people who decry cancel culture, tried to cancel the brand for it. To be fair, there’s still a long way to go before Bud Light reclaims its former dominance. But four months in, and anti-Bud Light sentiments are going flat. A new Deutsche Bank survey of beer drinkers found that those who no longer buy Bud Light after the boycott push dropped to 19% in August (compared to 21% in July). The percent of consumers buying more Bud Light went up 3.2%, while the percent of those buying less went down 1.7%.
Perhaps the biggest indicator that Bud Light is too popular to truly cancel is in the long run projections: Deutsche Bank found that former Bud Light drinkers who are “very unlikely” to purchase the beer in three to six months went from 18% to 3%. The rebound is being aided primarily by drinkers older than 25 and people who earn less than $25,000 annually.
There’s no doubt that the boycott temporarily hurt sales this financial quarter. The New York Times notes that parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev’s U.S. revenue fell more than 10% year-over-year “primarily due to the volume decline of Bud Light.” According to Yahoo News, the weekly decrease in Bud Light sales was still more than 25% lower in the first week of August. Over the ensuing months, Modelo took Bud Light’s position as the top-selling beer in the country. But an insights manager at market research company Euromonitor International told NBC that Bud Light “was reliably shrinking in sales every single year for over a decade.” Beer’s market share in overall alcohol sales was also smaller than liquor’s market share for the first time earlier this year.
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For Bud Light’s long term outlook, Deutsche Bank’s report points to “cancellation” being a temporary blip that could sort itself out before the end of the year. The report’s lead author Mitch Collett emphasized a “buy” rating on the company’s stock as its most popular brand gets set to rebound. Falling into the culture war is a distraction that major companies tend to want to avoid, especially as extreme conservatives threaten brands with one liners like “go woke, go broke.” Still, making the largest beer company in the world go broke is harder than not buying Bud Light for a couple of months.
U.S. CEO Brendan Whitworth told CBS that Mulvaney’s beer “was a gift, and it was one can,” and avoided questions of whether the company would work with Mulvaney in the future. He also noted that the company has supported the LGBTQ community in various ways, including sponsorship at Pride parades, for 25 years. It has also donated to the campaigns of anti-LGBTQ politicians. In short, it’s a company looking to make money by selling to as many people as possible — both anti-woke crusaders and people who don’t have quick access to an assault rifle to shoot cases of beer.
AB InBev is certainly not going broke for going woke in the grand scheme of things. The brand being canceled hasn’t even put the parent company in the negative for the year. Bud Light may seem like an indomitable force stateside, but its Belgian parent company is global. AB InBev didn’t change its 2023 earnings outlook amid the controversy, and overall revenue for AB InBev actually went up 7.2% compared to the second quarter in 2022. A third-party researcher hired by the company found that about 80% of consumers are favorable or neutral to the brand among 170,000-plus people surveyed across the country.
On AB InBev’s quarterly analyst call, according to CNN, a company spokesperson said Bud Light’s share of the U.S. beer market decreased overall in the second quarter and stabilized from late April to June. Whether or not that had anything to do with Anheuser-Busch’s hilariously cliché post-controversy commercial tying the brand to America, freedom and horses running on open land is an unanswered question.
It hasn’t been a pretty couple of months at Bud Light HQ. People have been fired, marketing budgets shifted and overall stock value decreased. The company certainly didn’t see a profit bump like Morgan Wallen did when he was “canceled” for using a racial slur in a video. But memories are short. Bud Light, like nearly every other person the online hoards have attempted to cancel in recent years, will be just fine.
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