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From Loss of Perfect LGBT Rating to Drop in Sales, Anheuser-Busch Keeps Taking Hits

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File

Just when it seems that Anheuser-Busch can't do any worse, new problems have revealed that it, in fact, can still get worse for the brewing company after transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney showcased cans of Bud Light with his likeness almost two months ago to highlight his one-year anniversary of claiming to be a woman and "365 Days of Girlhood." What was billed as a move to "authentically connect with audiences across various demographics and passion points" has been a disaster for Anheuser-Busch. Two of the company's marketing executives have been put on leave and the third-party marketing firm that the campaign was blamed on has since been fired.

Such moves haven't brought the outraged beer-drinking base back, though. As Leah covered when the numbers came in, for the week that ended May 6, retail sales of Bud Light dropped 23.6 percent compared to a year ago. The New York Post reported earlier on Monday that the loss of sales continues to be even worse. 

Sales were down 24.6 percent for the week ending May 13 compared to last year, the New York Post noted, citing Bump Williams Consulting and Nielson IQ research. Other Anheuser-Busch products are also facing a drop in sales. 

If the downward spiral continues at such a rate, downward trends for Anheuser-Busch are going to be happening at the time of the year they don't want it to happen most. Memorial Day is next Monday. 

As the New York Post also mentioned, while highlighting just how bad those sales numbers are:

“Bud Light is ‘sick,’” Bump Williams, founder of the consultancy said of the US’s top-selling beer, which raked in $4.8 billion in sales last year. “It’s now infected other healthy brands with the InBev portfolio and that’s a bigger problem in my mind.”

Sales of Busch Light were down 6.8% compared to 0.3% decline the previous week, while Anheuser-Busch’s Natural Light sales were down by 2.8% in the week ended May 13 compared to a 2.5% decline the previous week.

Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch’s competitors are guzzling market share with Coors Light up 23.2% in the week ended May 13 compared to a bump of 22.2% the previous week. Sales of Modelo Especial – the second most popular beer brand in the US with more than $3.7 billion in sales last year – are up by 10% in the most recent week compared to a 5% increase the previous week.

Bud Light has lost $110 million in sales volume year-to-date compared to the same period last year. The number of Bud Light cases sold was down 28.4% in the week ended May 13 from a year ago compared to a 27.7% decline the previous week.

The timing couldn’t be worse for the Belgium-based conglomerate. Beer is most in demand in the summer months and key drinking season kicks off on Memorial Day weekend.

“If Bud Light doesn’t stop the bleeding now, [it] runs the risk of losing the entire three months of the high demand for beer,” Williams said.

The report also notes that the 385 distributors are being hurt most by the backlash and ensuing boycott and are asking people to look past it. That's something that most likely should have been considered beforehand, though, before going through such an ill-thought out campaign.

The poor sales appear to have been acknowledged in that, as the New York Post covered in another piece, Bud Light will buy back unsold cases of beer that are past their expiration date. This comes after sellers have offered a $20 rebate for a $19.98 case of beer. 

When it comes to one of those executives placed on leave, Vice President of Marketing Alissa Heinerscheid, had made comments in March referring to Bud Light's customer base as "out of touch" and "fratty," which is why it supposedly "really important that we had another approach." That approach isn't going too well for the brand, though, and for Heinerscheid especially.

Not only was the campaign blamed on that third-party marketing firm, but leaked audio of Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Michel Doukeris revealed he was trying to downplay the partnership with Mulvaney. 

A Sunday report from The Wall Street Journal has more of just how bad things are. "The promotion and its aftermath made the brewer an object lesson in how not to handle a culture-war storm," the report aptly reads early on, before going on to explain:

But senior executives said they were caught off-guard by the Mulvaney promotion and the personalized beer can. AB InBev’s leaders were uncomfortable with a marketing initiative that thrust one of its biggest brands into the middle of a divisive political issue, according to people familiar with the matter. 

The company’s response made matters worse. Anheuser-Busch stayed mostly silent for two weeks, then released a general statement about bringing people together, prompting criticism from all sides for both waiting too long to respond and also not taking a clear stand.

When the furor continued, the company placed Heinerscheid and her boss, Daniel Blake, on leave. Heinerscheid was replaced in the role of head marketer for Bud Light by a seasoned beer executive and Blake’s role was eliminated to give senior marketers closer oversight on brand decisions. Heinerscheid and Blake remain on leave. Anheuser-Busch declined to comment on their future at the company, citing the executives’ privacy and safety.

The result angered pretty much everyone: core Bud Light consumers, supporters and opponents of transgender rights, wholesalers, retailers, bar owners and company staff.

In what is almost certainly going to be seen as too little, too late, Anheuser-Busch is still desperately looking to draw back customers, as the report also mentions. 

Efforts in mind include what the brand should already have been doing and stuck to in order to appeal to customers, such as incorporating football and country music in their commercials. They're also planning to have Bud Light sponsor a veterans group, which is likely to leave many wondering why it took backlash for such a move to be in the works. Do they really need a backlash to show they support veterans?

Anheuser-Busch isn't merely suffering among its base of outraged customers, though. The LGBT movement is turning on them as well. Earlier this month I covered how the 2Bears Tavern Group, which owns four gay bars in Chicago, made the move to no longer sell Anheuser-Busch products. Mark Robinson, the co-owner of four bars, spoke to local news outlet WLS to slam the product for making a decision that supposedly represented how they "chose to side with hate." He was also profiled for pouring a Bud Light down the drain.

Backlash from the LGBT movement isn't merely limited to the 2Bears Tavern Group. That Wall Street Journal report as well as a separate report from the New York Post from last Friday mentions that Anheuser-Busch has had its perfect score from the Human Rights Council (HRC) suspended for having and missing "a key moment" to stand up for Mulvaney.

A May 9 letter from HRC was shared exclusively with USA Today which reported on it last Thursday:

Companies that receive a 100 score on the index’s four criteria – protections from workplace discrimination, inclusive benefits, inclusive culture inside and outside the workplace and responsible citizenship – receive a “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality” seal of approval from the Human Rights Campaign.

Anheuser-Busch, which had a score of 100, has 90 days to respond or the organization will consider docking its score, the Human Rights Campaign told the company in the letter.

Anheuser-Busch did not respond to requests for comment on the Human Rights Campaign's letter but said it has an employee resource group that supports LGBTQIA+ employees. "Our ERGs are intended to be a safe space for those who identify with a given community and those who wish to be allies," the company said in an email.

...

Eric Bloem, HRC’s senior director, programs and corporate advocacy, said Anheuser-Busch backtracking on support for the LGBTQ community in the face of anti-trans and hate-filled rhetoric sends the message to employees, shareholders and customers that it does not stand up for the values of diversity, equity and inclusion it espouses.

...

“Anheuser-Busch had a key moment to really stand up and demonstrate the importance of their values of diversity, equity and inclusion and their response really fell short,” Bloem said.

Bloem said Anheuser-Busch has not responded to inquiries from the Human Rights Campaign. He hopes the ultimatum from the Human Rights Campaign will jump-start a conversation.

If backlash from outraged former customers and the LGBT movement alike won't tank Bud Light and other Anheuser-Busch products, it's quite possible that Congress will. Mulvaney has such a large platform and many of his viewers are under the legal drinking age of 21. 

That's the point that Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have raised in their letter to Anheuser-Busch CEO and Beer Institute chairman Brendan Whitworth, as Leah highlighted last Friday

The letter asks Whitworth and the Beer Institute’s Code Compliance Review Board to look into whether the partnership "violated the Beer Institute's Advertising/Marketing Code and Buying Guidelines prohibiting marketing to individuals younger than the legal drinking age."

Mulvaney's partnership with Bud Light is only one of many, though. There's many more, as Leah also highlighted in a separate VIP piece. Among them include Kate Spade, Olay, Crest, KitchenAid, Walmart, Ole Henriksen, and Ulta. They too, as Leah highlighted, have that HRC score on their mind. 

As prevalent a force as Mulvaney may appear to be, he's not the only one. Adidas recently came under fire for having a biological male model female bathing suits. 

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