Whassup, Bud?

I needed a drink and an escape last night.  It’s that time of the month, so to speak.  If you scroll down to the bottom of this entry, you’ll have an idea where my head, and my net worth, are at this writing.  But at the advice of someone I respect, I’m trying to call less attention to my situation.

Much like the person I was introduced to after they played a stirring set at a bar that a good friend recommended I accompany her to.  A talented, heavily made up musician who her friend introduced to me as Curtis.  Upon shaking my head, Curtis, in a soft, clearly female-sounding voice, quietly corrected the introducer with “I’m Crystal”.

Crystal/Curtis happened to have been holding a bottle of beer, clearly not a bottle of Bud Light.  So I suspect this person was ostensibly part of the target audience of the campaign that the same brand that has previously utilized spokesfrogs, a company that once won awards for a campaign involving friends incoherently growling the phrase “WHAZZZZZZZUPPPPPPPPPP” on a conference call, that earlier this month chose to embrace influencer Dylan Mulvaney as its latest celebrity endorser.

And if one actually looks into the numbers that support the growth and the potential of the transgender community, there are a number of irrefutable facts as to why Bud Light would want to tap into the substantial potential that Mulvaney would seem to have.

As Reuters’ Jonathan Allen reported last year:

Nearly 1.64 million people over the age of 13 in the United States identify themselves as transgender, based on an analysis of newly expanded federal health surveys.

The study estimates that about 0.5% of all U.S. adults, some 1.3 million people, and about 1.4%, or 300,000, of youth between 13- and 17-years-old identify as transgender, having a different gender identity than the sex they were assigned at birth.

A Pew Research Study released at roughly the same time revealed even more compelling data, as Anna Brown reported:
At a time when transgender and nonbinary Americans are gaining visibility in the media and among the public, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that 1.6% of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary – that is, their gender differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.Meanwhile, a rising share of Americans say they know someone who is transgender. This analysis accompanies an essay that examines the experiences and views of trans and nonbinary adults based on a series of focus groups.

Adults under 30 are more likely than older adults to be trans or nonbinary. Some 5.1% of adults younger than 30 are trans or nonbinary, including 2.0% who are a trans man or trans woman and 3.0% who are nonbinary – that is, they are neither a man nor a woman or aren’t strictly one or the other. (Due to rounding, subtotals may not add up to the total.) This compares with 1.6% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 0.3% of those 50 and older who are trans or nonbinary.

The share of U.S. adults who are transgender is particularly high among adults younger than 25. In this age group, 3.1% are a trans man or a trans woman, compared with just 0.5% of those ages 25 to 29. There is no statistically significant difference between these two age groups in the share who are nonbinary or the total share who are trans or nonbinary.

And yes, a lot of them do drink, although the younger one dives into the demo, the less so that is the case.  Witness this data that Penn State Extension reported on last year:

According to Numerator, 90% of Millennials purchased alcohol during the 52-week period ending in May 2021, compared to 84% of 21 and older Gen Z shoppers. Gen Zs reasons for not buying included “alcohol’s impact on their mood, level of alertness, and even image on social media.”

Additionally, compared to Millennials, Gen Zs:

  • Spent 40% less on alcohol,
  • Made five fewer trips per year to purchase alcohol, and
  • They were less likely to consume wine and beer regularly.

Had anyone at Anheuser-Busch, or any agency that has been doing work for them of late, cited anything even close to those facts to explain their decision to out Mulvaney front and center in their most recent marketing blitz, it might have resonated with the likes of capitalists like Kid Rock, Travis Tritt, and many others who have chosen to express their opinions in a manner as determined and as defiant as has Mulvaney.   I assume most of you reading this are familiar with the specifics; if not, I would encourage you to do your own homework.  These two jarringly different images from the respective social media blitzes show how alarmingly polarizing and emotional this issue has become.

But instead of a more calming and nunaced tone, as the week wore on, the reactions and rationale that A-B executives and its marketers offered were actually even more insulting and incidentiary.  As The New York Post’s Ariel Zilber reported yesterday:

Anheuser-Busch’s top executive on Friday offered an apology flatter than a day-old Bud Light as the beer giant reels from the backlash over its sponsorship deal with controversial transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Brendan Whitworth said in press release titled “Our Responsibility To America.”

“We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.”

Whitworth finally broke his silence over the brewing controversy but made no mention of the sponsorship deal with Mulvaney — which has led to calls for a boycott of the nation’s largest beer company.

He also didn’t address reports that senior executives were kept in the dark about the Mulvaney rollout.

Nor did he reference the company’s other social media response that dropped yesterday, as Newsweek’s James Bickerton reported:

Bud Light broke its social media silence that followed the backlash over its work with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney, with a four-letter post on Friday.

On Friday, the company tweeted “TGIF?”—an abbreviation of “Thank God It’s Friday?”—in its first social media post since April 2.

You know, throwing alcohol on a fire can achieve the same sort of conflagratory results as throwing oil on it.

It’s highly likely Whitworth was at best only moderately involved in the initial decisions that resulted not only in the choice of Mulvaney but the kind of in-your-face, how DARE you deny me MY truth response that influencers, particularly Gen Z, seem to relish and respond to.  They’re in the business of attracting followers and getting likes, they endorse products, they rarely produce them.  They rarely consider the ramifications of how their opinions could impact those of incumbents.  What Whitworth is more likely focusing on today were the line items that Zilber also detailed:

The $132 billion beer company has seen its market value plummet by some $5 billion since the campaign was launched April 1

Busch distributors around the country have been feeling the fallout, with many bars in conservative states from Tennessee to Wyoming refusing to stock Bud Light

“I simply don’t understand why they hired the person who was doing the marketing. I mean, if your target customer is Kid Rock, and then all of a sudden you decide to go to RuPaul, that just doesn’t make any sense at all,” Oxygen Financial CEO Ted Jenkin told Fox News Digital. 

Budweiser factories have also reportedly been targeted by a wave of bomb threats this week.  On Thursday, the Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that officers responded to a call from the Anheuser-Busch facility in the Van Nuys section.

That facility, incidentially, was within mere minutes of the bar I met Crystal/Curtis at last night.  That might explain, in part, their choice of beverage.

When I would advice marketers, even those who came to the post with strong personal biases and even, at times, agendas, I would strongly urge them to think like their customers, both those they have and those they aspire to.  We’d actually do focus groups that would test campaigns, images and potential endorsers.  When we’d look at the potential of alignment with certain personalities we’d use data from the likes of TVQ and E-Poll, companies that measure both familiarity AND likability.  We’d look at demographic and psychographic heat maps.  We’d weigh both sides.  We’d discuss.  And if it were significant enough, I’d make sure the CEO was at least given the chance to weigh in.

I can’t seem to believe any of that went on in this case.

Dylan Mulvaney has a LOT of followers, but we’re not sure how many of them actually are FANS.  How many of them drink beer, or would want to,  And whether or not their tacit endorsement of a brand would actually matter to them.   A raw number without context is meaningless.  Executives, even mid-level ones, who seem to understand that are becoming increasingly rarer.

Fortunately, there aren’t as many as reactionary or as popular as the likes of Kid Rock or Tritt, or numerous others.  But there are also probably a lot more Curtis/Crystals out there than there are Dylan Mulvaneys.  Quietly owning their pride rather than literally shoving it in millions of faces.  Respectfully, Dylan, you do you.  And Mr. Whitworth, I’d highly advise you to look deeper into your marketing team choices and exactly what kind of research they did to justify such a tone-deaf and counterproductive campaign they have produced for you.

I’m willing to bet it looked an awful lot like this than an actual focus group.

Until next time…

Fundraiser by Steven Leblang : Steve Leblang (gofundme.com)

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