According to Wikipedia, Et tu, Brute is the Latin phrase literally meaning “and you, Brutus?” or “also you, Brutus?” It is often translated as, “You as well, Brutus?” or “You too, Brutus?
The infamous quote in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar play is equally applicable to the recent Bud Light controversy, and the brand’s attempt, like many others, to evolve, broaden its horizons, and reach new (younger) audiences.
On April 1, transgender influencer Dylvan Mulvaney promoted Bud Light and showcased a six-pack that had her face emblazoned on the cans. This was part of a March Madness campaign which coincided with Mulvaney commemorating “day 365 of womanhood.”
Bud Light loyalists were the least bit amused or entertained, and in the last two weeks, the fallout has created a PR nightmare for parent company, Anheuser-Busch.
Travis Tritt and Kid Rock have voiced strong opinions against Bud Light, social media has been redlining, beer sales have plummeted (albeit it the data is limited), and all of this culminated with the world’s leading beer company losing $5 billion in market value.
According to Bud Light’s vice president of marketing Alissa Heinerscheid, the goal of engaging Mulvaney was intended to update Bud Light’s ‘fratty,’ ‘out of touch’ branding with inclusivity.
Unlike Tritt and Kid Rock, Howard Stern, CNN’s Don Lemon, Joe Rogan all took exception to the staunch reaction and seem to be indifferent to the “brewhaha.”
Heinerscheid shared her thoughts on the “Make Yourself At Home” podcast. “I’m a businesswoman, I had a really clear job to do when I took over Bud Light, and it was ‘This brand is in decline, it’s been in a decline for a really long time, and if we do not attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand there will be no future for Bud Light.'”
Bud Light’s attempt to be inclusive alienated the brand from its traditional customer base, many whom have since boycotted the beer.
Trying to stem the tide, today Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth issued a statement about the cultural entanglement. The six-paragraph missive does not mention Mulvaney or the campaign. It was flatter than Bud Light sales over the past few weeks.
“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer,” said Whitworth.
One thing is clear, the country is divided, polarized, and jaded on many issues. As a result, brands need to figure out how to evolve without compromising the values and expectations of their customer base.
After the last few weeks, a couple of beers just might be what is needed. Unfortunately, based on the media frenzy, most will opt for anything but Bud Light.
At least for now…