WASHINGTON – Sales of Bud Light have plunged 17% since Sen. Ted Cruz began hammering the brewer over a promotion featuring a transgender social media star.
“Go wake up. Go brokehe tweeted three weeks ago at the height of the conservative backlash.
It’s not the first time the Texas Republican has argued with a mega-brand or angered the grassroots over a cultural flashpoint.
But with Representative Colin Allred of Dallas posing as a more measured alternative in launching a campaign for Senate, accusing Cruz of cynically producing outrage, the Senator may have to choose. Tone it to broaden his appeal as he seeks a third term or double down to cement Republican support, at the risk of pushing moderates towards his Democratic rival.
“We are seeing big business after big business embraces the radical left,” Cruz said on his podcast. “My first thought was, ‘Have they ever met a typical Bud Light drinker? … It’s hard to imagine the advertising executive saying, ‘This is really tapping into our demographic.”
Some marketers disagree with this.
Like smaller competitors, Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgian company that owns Bud Light and is the world’s largest brewer, has many audiences, including LGBTQ consumers, and uses a multitude of approaches to reach them.
“If that consumer wants and appreciates social advocacy, then that’s a form of targeted marketing,” said Sean Blair, a marketing professor at the Georgetown University business school, adding that promoting Bud Light with the transgender influencer on social media Dylan Mulvaney was meant to resonate with certain consumers.
In a short video on Instagram, where he has 1.8 million followers, Mulvaney opens a 24-ounce dresser with his face on it to promote a $15,000 giveaway during the March Madness College basketball tournament.
“They look at the market in general and they’re like, ‘We can be a lot bigger. Our appeal is too narrow in terms of…the kind of person they think Bud Light is for, and we want to broaden that,’” said Blair.
Cruz joked that Mulvaney would have been a better spokesperson for “dark cherry-flavored hard cider” or cosmetics, than for Bud Light, a coup that hasn’t gone over well with the LGBTQ community.
“He’s making fun of someone just because they’re queer [and] taunting an organization for hiring a queer person,” said Johnathan Gooch, director of communications for Equality Texas. Ultimately, he warned, such demonization breeds violence and “people will show up with guns to a drag show queen”.
“It’s good to see Bud Light breaking some stereotypes. There are tons of LGBTQ people drinking Bud Light. How about that?” Gooch said. “How does that affect anyone else’s rights? How does that affect the Senator?
Bud Light has been making rainbow aluminum bottles for several years, adopting a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ pride. He made headlines in 2016 with an ad featuring comedians Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen celebrating with Bud Light at a same-sex wedding.
Last May, Bud Light announced a partnership with the National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce to amplify its outreach to LGBTQ consumers.
Cruz says the brewer crossed the line working with Mulvaney, going beyond targeted marketing and moving into social advocacy.
“I hope this serves as a warning to other companies: Stay out of politics,” the senator said on his podcast. “Sell your damn beer. For example, you don’t have to have an opinion about transsexuals, one way or another. For example, why should a brewing company do this?
Two marketing executives have been suspended over the uproar.
Allred, launching his campaign to unseat Cruz next year, said the senator would rather “invent false culture wars” than solve Texans’ kitchen-table problems.
Cruz did not directly call for a boycott, although other Republicans in Congress have, including Representative Dan Crenshaw of Humble, and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
He enjoyed company fights.
“Sensible people across America have responded with a widespread boycott,” Cruz wrote in a fundraising appeal. “There are reports of Bud Light sales plummeting as sports fans, workers, men and women, and people from all walks of life reject this utterly toxic nonsense that is even seeping into our beer now!”
Anheuser-Busch did not respond to requests for comment.
Cruz’s spokeswoman Macarena Martinez criticized the attention given to her boss’s repeated comments about Bud Light, instead of bipartisan efforts to combat the illicit use of animal tranquilizers and to demand clearer disclosure of ticket fees for concerts.
“These bills [could]… have a real impact on the daily lives of your readers,” Martinez said via email. “Bud Light should have stayed out of politics. Instead the brewer teamed up with a far-left activist to promote a wake-up agenda.
Cruz has a history of using crass humor to piss off a conservative base.
Last August, he stereotyped coffee shop workers as lazy potheads whose votes Biden could buy with student loan forgiveness.
“If you’re that deadbeat bartender who wasted seven years in college studying completely useless stuff, now has loans and can’t find a job, Joe Biden just gave you $20,000. Like, holy cow, $20,000,” Cruz said on his podcast.
He added that “if you can get off the bong for a minute and walk down to the polling place — or just mail your ballot that Democrats have helpfully sent you — it could boost turnout.”
At conservative meetings, he invariably makes fun of the growing college practice of specifying one’s preferred pronouns. “I’m Ted Cruz and my pronoun is ‘kiss my ass!’” He loves to joke.
Cruz also joked that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has a penis and that Al Franken, the comedian and former senator who resigned amid allegations of inappropriate conduct in early 2018, is sexually obsessed with him . (Franken joked in a book that “I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I hate Ted Cruz.”)
When Cruz ran for president in 2016, she seized on a barely inflammatory issue — letting transgender women use women’s restrooms — and used it to attack then-Republican leader Donald Trump.
“If Donald Trump dresses like Hillary Clinton, he still can’t use the girls’ bathroom,” she said at a campaign stop in South Bend, Indiana. “And I apologize for putting that image in your mind.”
Around the time of the March Madness promotion, Mulvaney, 26, was also celebrating the first year of her ‘Days of Girlhood’ series on TikTok in which she chronicled her journey after coming out as transgender. In October, you spoke with President Joe Biden about trans issues.
Conservative commentators and celebrities have retaliated with attacks on Mulvaney and promises to boycott. Musician Kid Rock posted a video of himself filming Bud Light cases, then turning to the camera and saying, “F- Bud Light and f- Anheuser-Busch.”
Crenshaw made his own boycott video, calling the promotion featuring Mulvaney “stupid” and vowing to throw out “every single Bud Light we have in the fridge.” He then opened the fridge to reveal that he didn’t have Bud Light anyway.
“When you want to #boycottbudlight but then realize you’ll never buy Bud Light,” she wrote in the caption.
Crenshaw’s refrigerator, however, contained cans of Karbach. This is a Houston-based brewery also owned by Anheuser-Busch, as detractors have pointed out.
AB InBev has bought Anheuser Busch for $52 billion. Since promoting Mulvaney, he has dismissed claims, especially on social media, that he is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Industry insiders agree the company remains financially sound, citing soaring share price and billions in assets.
Anheuser-Busch ended up alienating some transgender customers, according to critics, by not backing Mulvaney after the backlash erupted. In a statement, the company’s CEO did not mention the controversy, Mulvaney or any particular boycotts.
“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” CEO Brendan Whitworth said in the statement. “We’re in the business of bringing people together over a beer.”