Bud Light’s Crisis Explored

Eva Casher, Insights Manager

June 6th, 2023

Bud Light’s handling of its work with transgender influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, left the brand in crisis. Bud Light drinkers across the country boycotted the brand and ultimately impacted the company’s bottom line.

We analyzed readership data to understand the crisis better, uncover trends, and identify learnings for comms leaders. 

Memo analyzed just nearly 2,000 articles published between April 2, 2023 – May 23, 2023, across major U.S. publications, local news, consumer outlets, and trades. Keep reading to learn what we found.

Celebrity commentary has a massive impact on the severity of a crisis.

In this case, several famous musicians fueled the fire, likely making the situation more disastrous for Bud Light. Country Musicians, including Kid Rock and Travis Tritt, brought attention to the Bud Light controversy and kick-started the boycott.

Brands should respond to crises swiftly to avoid negative press.

Like other brands of late (Adidas), Bud Light waited too long to address the controversy. While the highest-read articles focused on the brand’s social media silence, executive apologies, and free beer promotions, the response from Bud Light owner Anheuser-Busch also generated high readership. 

While readership on the Bud Light controversy is steadily decreasing, brand sentiment is becoming more and more negative over time. Early in the news cycle, Bud Light’s readership was mostly neutral. By May, nearly all readership came from articles that were negative on the brand.

Readership data is key to understanding your audience during a crisis.

Readership trends suggest the Bud Light controversy is important to conservatives. Despite higher coverage of the issue on left-leaning national news outlets, readership was significantly higher on center and right-leaning national news outlets. In fact, right and right-leaning coverage attracted 6.5x the readers as left and left-leaning.

By analyzing readership data, Memo was able to zero into the exact markets and topics consumers cared about most. Consumers in the heartland have been the most invested in the Bud Light crisis. Among all local new outlets, publishers located in the Midwest (most notably in Ohio and Missouri where Anheuser-Busch has corporate offices) dominated readership.

Crises are contagious and competitors should be prepared to deal with similar controversy.

Bud Light’s crisis spiked similar controversy for many other brands, including Target, Miller Light, and Nike. In order to emerge from a crisis relatively unscathed, it’s best to be prepared, learn from your competition’s missteps, and act as swiftly as organizationally possible.

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