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The Wall Street Journal reported today that Bud Light was the number two-selling brand in the country. Not bad until you realize they were the #1 beer and dropped to #2. As Ari Kaufman reported on this site last week, the boycott of Bud Light happened because the brand broke the norm, and the boycott was working. Ari’a arguments were correct, but there is an additional and essential part of the story, marketing to its user base.

As you can see from the chart below, the boycott is successful. , The new King of Beers is Modelo.

Source: WSJ 6/14/23


Ironically Modelo was owned by Anheuser-Busch until 2013 when it was forced by American regulators: to sell the label to Constellation Brands.

Anheuser-Busch InBev BUD 0.85%increase; green up pointing triangle NV offered to sell an additional $2.9 billion of assets to Constellation Brands Inc. STZ 1.22%increase; green up pointing triangle in a dramatic bid by the world’s largest brewer to rescue its $20 billion takeover of Mexico’s Grupo Modelo SA after U.S. antitrust authorities sued to stop the huge cross-border deal.

How did the highest-selling beer instigate a boycott that caused a 24% drop in sales so far? Most will point to a campaign with transgender advocate  Dylan Mulvaney. However, that is not the cause, just a symptom. Bud did the wrong thing at the wrong time and made one of the biggest brand mistakes possible—ignoring its primary audience.

On April 1, 2023, Bud Light posted a video on their Instagram account starring Dylan Mulvaney. and ending with her picture on a can of Bud Light. The link to the video follows  

Ms. Mulvaney is transgender, and that marketing effort did not create the boycott, but the straw broke the camel’s.back. Alissa Heinerscheid, who ran the brand’s marketing, rejected its target audience to appeal to the woke culture.

Per National Review

When I heard that Heinerscheid had declared that she felt a “need to evolve and elevate this incredibly iconic brand” and that “Bud Light had been kind of a brand of fratty, kind of out-of-touch humor, and it was really important that we had another approach,” I wondered if she herself drank or enjoyed Bud Light. There’s nothing wrong with a choice to not drink Bud Light — it certainly is far from my first choice in beers — but it does raise the question of whether her decision to move the beer’s image in another direction was driven, in part, by a desire to market less to “frat” boys and more to well-educated (Wharton School and Harvard), upscale, white-collar professionals like herself.

So Bud Light drinkers were low-class frat boys, but Ms. Heinerscheid wanted to change the user base to upscale Ivy League types.

No brand can reach everybody; even worse, you cannot reject the people who made brand #1.

New Coke. Coke changed the flavor of its flagship brand, making it sweeter than Pepsi. While taste tests were successful, they neglected to ask if they marketed the new product and took the original Coke off the shelves. When they took that approach, there was a revolution among Coke fans. More than just complaining, they hoarded the remaining bottles of the original product and rejected the new product. Because they didn’t ask, the Coke marketers didn’t realize product users kept Coca-Cola on a pedestal. To solve the issue, they returned the original under “Original Coke” and continued to market the new brand.

Korvettes was a discount department store located east of the Mississippi. 1970 saw a new Marketing Campaign called the “Other Korvettes” This effort tried to change the stores from discount to high-end and change their user base. The problem was that the high-end shoppers wouldn’t touch Korvettes with a ten-foot pole, and the discount shoppers believed the new ads–Korvetts was no longer for them. In the end, Korvettes was out of business by 1980.

The Bud Light issue seems similar to Korvetts, rejecting the “low class “Frat Boys while targeting the upscale, white-collar professional types who will reject the beer and the disenfranchised  “frat boy” type. Are they lobbying to go out of business?

Remember the Ford Edsel? When it was introduced in 1958, it was supposed to be everyone’s car. The Edsel had many issues. The most important was reliability. But that was about people who had already purchased the car. An issue preventing initial purchases was Ford’s research forgot to learn who purchased new Edsels and why they made the purchase.

Ford conducted virtually no test marketing with actual consumers to bolster its conviction that this was the right car at the right time. That mistake cost the company $250 million, 10 times that of 21st-century dollars.

In the 1950s, men purchased cars, but the Edel didn’t appeal as much to men as it did to women.

Bud Light’s marketing rejected the user base, the people who made the brand a winner. Now they are leading the effort to reject the brand.

The bottom line is unless Anheuser-Busch gets its crap together and figures out a much better way to market Bud Light, it might have one less brand to worry about.



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