Ruder Finn - What's Next

InBev Still Doesn’t Get It About Bud Light

Mon., May 8, 2023



I don’t usually write follow-ups to pieces already published, but there has been such an extraordinary outpouring of commentary about the Bud Light disaster that I have been collecting notes about what Anheuser-Busch is doing and saying to bring its floundering brand back to prominence. As things stand, Bud Light is about to lose its leadership position to rivals like Miller Lite and Coors Lite.

As I suggested weeks ago, A-B has placed the author of the festering marketing flub on leave and replaced her with an experienced marketing executive (not that Ms. Heinerscheid was inexperienced; she just messed up). They have also created a new commercial showing men and women at a country music concert enjoying the music and the brew. At the stakeholder level, A-B has held town hall meetings—some of them rather touchy—with distributors concerned about the dive in Bud Lite sales.

But A-B and its parent InBev persist in refusing to own the problem, and in trying to finesse the precipitous drop in sales by countering that it represents only about 1 percent of InBev’s global revenues.

A dismissive angle was also taken by AB InBev CEO Michel Doukeris during an earnings call with investors last week, in which he also averred that the Dylan Mulvaney promotion was a mere one-off. “This was the result of one can,” Doukeris said on a video call. “It was not made for production or sale to general public. It was one post, not a formal campaign or advertisement,” as though the tremendous blowback was all out of proportion to the original miscue.

Mr. Doukeris displayed the kind of corporate casuistry that creates further trouble by putting shareholders ahead of customers. And, by waving off the matter because it represents such a small percentage of sales, we see in spades how out of touch AB InBev is with the passionate reactions that the Mulvaney affair has caused.

I know of one local restaurateur who not only trashed three cases of Bud Light on TikTok, but refuses to sell any A-B product in his restaurants. No Bud, no Michelob Ultra—nothing. That kind of infectious resentment can eventually take a big bite out of U.S. revenues.

And of course Donald Trump, never one to miss a chance at publicity or notoriety, has come out calling for the GOP to boycott Anheuser-Busch and all “woke” corporations, who are apparently an affront to conservative principles and values.

A gaggle of former Anheuser-Busch marketing executives and crisis management experts have weighed in on what A-B is doing wrong, yet no one has called upon the company to take ownership of the problem and publicly apologize, admitting that they were wrong to disrespect the tastes and preferences of their most loyal customers. It is no longer a matter of MBA marketing or fancy crisis management, but the rather old-fashioned PR characteristic of the Harold Burson or John Hill school.

In fact, that may be the reason A-B cannot seem to work their way out of this mess. They are marketers, not PR people.


Bill Huey is president of Strategic Communications and the author of Advertising's Double Helix: A Proposed New Process Model. Journal of Advertising Research, May/June 1999. His article about advertising effects has been cited in books and academic papers around the world.

Category: PR Commentary

Sign up for O'Dwyer's daily eblast

More PR Commentary posts from O'Dwyer's:

Incremental is Fundamental

Mon., Dec. 4, 2023

Paul OestreicherThere will always be a place for big ideas and sweeping changes, but don't underestimate the value of smaller steps and incremental advances.

UAE Goes Under Microscope

Thu., Nov. 30, 2023

COPThe UAE may regret its decision to host the COP28 UN climate conference as activists plan to use the high-profile platform to highlight UAE's poor human rights record... Walter Kissinger learned how to speak like an American. His one-year older brother, Henry, did not. They both fled Nazi Germany in 1938... ESG makeover puts the emphasis on S for security.

Uncle Walter and Henry the K: A Hero and a Villain

Thu., Nov. 30, 2023

Walter CronkiteThe news announcing the death of Henry Kissinger, the last of the prevaricating politicians and so-called statesmen who stole my future and that of thousands of other young Americans, got me thinking about Walter Cronkite.

Rev Up Air Force One, Joe

Tue., Nov. 28, 2023

Joe BidenJoe Biden’s decision to skip the COP28 climate summit shows that he is tone-deaf to the fears of young Americans who consider tackling global warming a No. 1 priority... Americans are skeptical about the reasons why wealthy people donate to charity... Fox News sinks to a new low.

Binance Spins $4B Federal Settlement

Wed., Nov. 22, 2023

BinanceBinance is pleased to pay eye-popping $4B+ fine to settle charges that it allowed the flow of funds to terrorists, cybercriminals and child abusers, among other misdeeds... The Manhattan-based New York Times basks in its snobbery, elitism... Let's hear it for the oppressed billionaire white guys.

 Printer Friendly

Return to May 8, 2023 News

Return to Latest PR News

Have a comment? Send it to [email protected]

May 9, 2023, by Kevin Vogts

I was dir. of comms. for a large private university. Though we were minuscule compared to Anheuser-Busch, we invested much time, effort, and budget in our crisis communications plan. I am confident that even I could have handled all this MUCH, MUCH better than A-B. It boggles the mind that such a massive corporation could have misstepped so badly and is continuing to do so. Professional malpractice of the highest order!

May 9, 2023, by Chris Monroe

You are the only one to get it right. All they have to do is, get in front of a camera and simply say "we are sorry". Those three words will go a long way repairing the rif with all us "fratties".