The boycott against Bud Light is hammering sales. Experts explain why.
(NEW YORK) — Critics of Bud Light burned empty beer boxes and fired bullets at cans as part of an anti-trans backlash against the brand that erupted early last month. Since then, the anger has grown.
Sales of Bud Light have recorded declines for six consecutive weeks after a product endorsement from Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender influencer, set off ire among many conservatives.
Consumer boycotts typically fizzle but this one has expanded for an array of reasons: a hot-button political controversy over a product with ample alternatives, outcry from political figures and celebrities and amplification on social media, experts told ABC News.
The boycott grew even larger, meanwhile, after the initial response from the company was perceived as conciliatory by some LGBTQ advocates, prompting a wave of frustration on the left, the experts added.
“Generally, boycotts get called and have very little effect,” Gerald Davis, a professor of organizational behavior at the Michigan University Graduate School of Business. “For now, everybody is mad.”
Sales of Bud Light fell nearly 25% over the week ending on May 13 compared to the same period a year ago, according to data from Bump Williams Consulting and Nielsen NIQ obtained by ABC News.
The most recent decline showed a deepening of losses after a drop of some 23% the week prior compared to a year ago and a roughly 7% year-over-year drop for the week ending on April 9, soon after the boycott began, the data showed.
Meanwhile, sales of rival beers have surged. Sales of Coors Light jumped almost 23% over the week ending on May 13 compared to a year ago; while sales of Miller Lite climbed 21% over that period, the data showed.
“In the beer world, there are thousands of other options readily available at similar price points,” Anson Frericks, a former Anheuser-Busch executive, told ABC News. “Every grocery store and bar usually has the other options.”
In all, the stock price for Anheuser-Busch InBev, the maker of Bud Light, has fallen about 11% since Mulvaney posted the brief Instagram endorsement video that sparked the backlash.
Anheuser-Busch InBev declined to respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
In response to the initial boycott, Anheuser-Busch InBev posted a statement from CEO Brendan Whitworth on its website.
“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” Whitworth said. “We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.”
The company also placed two executives who oversaw the endorsement of Mulvaney’s Instagram post on leave, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.
The response drew sharp criticism from some LGBTQ advocates who considered it a capitulation to the backlash. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, suspended the company’s Corporate Equality Index score, USA Today reported on Thursday. Previously, the company scored 100, the top rating.
“More and more people on the left are upset that the company is not supporting these progressive values in a more outspoken way,” Frericks said.
The scale and longevity of the backlash also underscore the intensity of anti-trans sentiment among conservatives, experts said.
As of last week, more than 520 anti-LGBTQ bills had been introduced in state legislatures, including over 220 bills specifically targeting transgender and non-binary people, the Human Rights Campaign found.
Far-right House Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. last month reposted a video to her 700,000 followers that sharply criticized Bud Light. Celebrities like Kid Rock and Ted Nugent had previously voiced similar messages.
“This anti-woke agenda and the idea of trans rights broadly has become a wedge issue,” Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business who studies consumer movements, told ABC News. “It has gained and attracted a great deal of attention.”
Anheuser-Busch InBev stands in a difficult position as it faces frustration on both sides of the political spectrum, said Davis, of Michigan University.
“A dynamic has been set in motion that’s going to be very complicated for the company to navigate,” Davis said. “What stance could they take now that would make one side or the other say, ‘Oh, OK’?”
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