Ad Flap Leaves Bitter Aftertaste for Bud Light and Warning for Big Business

The extent to which the backlash against Bud Light has affected the company’s sales is unusual. Other companies that have in recent years found themselves the target of ire on the right over race and gender politics, like Nike and Disney, or on the left over support of former President Donald J. Trump and his stolen election claims, like Goya Foods, have paid little for it with consumers.

Americus Reed, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who studies the intersection of social movements and consumer behavior, says that for many companies that have openly embraced racial justice politics and L.G.B.T.Q. rights in recent years, such gestures reflect an awareness that “it’s another way to differentiate yourselves in a competitive marketplace.”

He cited Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which has built brand identity and loyalty for decades in part by wearing its roots in the hippie enclave of Burlington, Vt., and its liberal politics on its sleeve. “Then suddenly that bucket is not just cream and sugar, it’s something else,” he said.

But Anson Frericks, who was Anheuser-Busch’s president of U.S. operations until last year, said that logic didn’t necessarily hold for his former company: a behemoth of a brand with a customer base that was historically divided more or less evenly between the two sides of the country’s increasingly stark partisan divide, and with an identity associated more with Clydesdales, Americana and humorous Super Bowl commercials than social justice.

“There’s an authenticity element to what Ben & Jerry’s does,” said Mr. Frericks, who is now co-founder and president with Mr. Ramaswamy of Strive Asset Management, an investment firm that has positioned itself against the trend toward socially and environmentally conscious investing.

“When you have these large corporations that have a historic brand identity, it just looks inauthentic when they’re all of a sudden getting involved in these social campaigns.” Anheuser-Busch, he argued, had “lost track of the consumer.”

The company’s backtracking, though, has left it with few defenders.

“This was their opportunity to say, ‘We do stand with the L.G.B.T.Q. community and specifically the trans community,’” said Stacy Lentz, the chief executive of the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, the philanthropic foundation of the historic gay bar in Manhattan.

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