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How Packaging Lost Anheuser-Busch $5 BILLION and CountingHow Packaging Lost Anheuser-Busch $5 BILLION and Counting

Commemorative Bud Light beer cans printed with the face of Anheuser-Busch’s new spokesperson, transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney, cause company sales and stock value to plummet.

Lisa McTigue Pierce

April 13, 2023

3 Min Read
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Have you seen the viral video of Kid Rock shooting up Bud Light cans with a rifle? (Caution: Foul language.)

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This was the American singer/songwriter/rapper’s reaction to the brand’s recent marketing campaign with its new spokesperson, Dylan Mulvaney. A transgender woman, Mulvaney was hired by Bud Light’s owner, Anheuser-Busch, to “authentically connect with audiences across various demographics and passion points,” according to a company spokesperson cited in a Fox News article.

News of the partnership — along with the social media post of commemorative cans with Mulvaney’s face on them — angered Bud Light drinkers, especially those living in rural areas. Mulvaney showed off the can on Instagram in early April, after A-B sent packs of them to her to celebrate her first year of being a woman (see the original Instagram post in this NBC News article).

As of today’s count, A-B shares have toppled $5 billion (with a B). This Bud Light marketing debacle is costing the company dearly — and for a package that isn’t even for sale!

Earlier this month, a company spokesperson defended its actions in a statement to Fox News: “From time to time, we produce unique commemorative cans for fans and for brand influencers, like Dylan Mulvaney. This commemorative can was a gift to celebrate a personal milestone and is not for sale to the general public.”

That fact doesn’t seem to matter to the beer-drinking public.

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How did Bud Light get the sentiment of many of its customers so wrong? The Hill’s Rising newscasters contemplate that in this video:

This is the second time in the last couple months where a company has created controversy over packaging that makes a social statement. Mars experienced similar negative reactions over its limited-edition M&M’s package that celebrated women who have “flipped the status quo,” as well as over its announcement that it was replacing its characters with a human spokesperson. Immediately after its Super Bowl commercial with new spokesperson and actress/comedian Maya Rudolph, Mars flipped again and brought its characters back.

 

Bud Light’s error costs its packaging suppliers, too.

Fallout from the recent Bud Light can controversy is also hitting its packaging suppliers. Ball Corp.’s stock is down 5% (as of Wednesday, April 12) because 13% of its aluminum container business comes from Anheuser-Busch. Since the start of the campaign, Bud Light beer sales have dropped 30% in less than two weeks.

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Packaging designers often struggle to create new packages for an existing product that will appeal to a newer audience but without alienating its existing customers. It’s a delicate balance that Bud Light failed at — spectacularly.

“You still have to evolve your brand,” says Harry Schuhmacher, Editor and Publisher, Beer Business Daily, in a video on Fox Business News. “I think we’re just seeing the pain points of when you attempt to do that.”

Only a few people see this as a short-term blip for a strong brand, though. The social media backlash and massive drop in sales for the company won’t be easy to recover from — especially for the company’s 2023 balance sheet.

Interestingly, Mulvaney’s Instagram post of her showing off the commemorative can with her face on it has been taken down, a sure sign of trying to walk back the damage. https://www.instagram.com/dylanmulvaney/

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Too little, too late.

About the Author(s)

Lisa McTigue Pierce

Executive Editor, Packaging Digest

Lisa McTigue Pierce is Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. She’s been a packaging media journalist since 1982 and tracks emerging trends, new technologies, and best practices across a spectrum of markets for the publication’s global community. Reach her at [email protected] or 630-272-1774.

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