The nation's most popular beer, Bud Light, has gone flat over allegations of insensitivity toward the transgender community. After presenting a TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney with a customized can featuring their image, the company and its parent, Anheuser-Busch, have drawn a steady stream of criticism.
Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth appeared on CBS Wednesday morning, defending his company's actions while painting the backlash as "divisive," calling Bud Light the "one degree of separation from the American flag."
"It really is an American institution," Whitworth said.
The controversy developed when Mulvaney post a TikTok video, celebrating 365 days of "being a woman," with a can of Bud Light made specially for them featuring their face. The beer maker defended their gesture, claiming it was "a gift" and only one can be printed. But the diversity issue touched a political third rail between LGBTQ+ activists, conservative values voters, and the beer-drinking public.
Retail stores, bars, and restaurants have all reported a sharp drop in enthusiasm for Bud Light since the video was released. One wholesaler reports sales have nationally fallen as much as 25 percent since April.
But perhaps worse than the economic damage is the impact on the brand’s image. After presenting a customized can to a transgender person, Whitworth was asked if he would make the same decision again.
"There's a big social conversation taking place right now, and big brands are right in the middle of it," he replied.
But he avoided answering the question of whether he deemed it a mistake or not. The company's statement has since been "focused on investing behind the brand right now."
The pandemic has forced Anheuser-Busch to pivot to a socially conscious beer, pandering to LGBT activism and pandering to progressive messaging on both sides of the aisle. While Whitworth insists the brand doesn't belong in the divisive debate, it isn't an easy situation for either side.
The Bud Light logo has become entwined in American culture, with the image has become part of public consciousness. But balancing diversity initiatives against sales figures is a delicate exercise for any brand. Anheuser-Busch has to prove it can simultaneously respect members of the LGBTQ+ community while still offering a quality product. Whether the beer-drinking public walks the tightrope with them remains to be seen.
In response to recent controversy, @AnheuserBusch CEO Brendan Whitworth tells CBS Mornings that his company will continue to support the LGBTQ community.
He did not directly answer the questions of whether the promotional campaign with a transgender influencer was a mistake. pic.twitter.com/19PXJQkoem
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) June 28, 2023