In an era where consumers increasingly look to companies to fulfill their product needs without pushing a political agenda, Anheuser-Busch’s announced layoffs of about 350 employees raise questions about the link between corporate politics and financial repercussions.
The layoffs, primarily impacting the corporate sector rather than the front-line workers, represent less than 2% of Anheuser-Busch’s approximately 18,000 employees nationwide. This restructuring comes amid declining sales following a campaign featuring transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Though championed by some, the campaign led to backlash and a sharp decline in Bud Light sales, knocking it off its position as the top-selling beer in the U.S., a title it has handed over to Modelo Especial.
Alcohol… a product so hard to sell Americans made it in bathtubs and risked going blind to drink it. And yet Big teeth McButHerFace found a way to get people to not buy theirs.
— EducatëdHillbilly™ (@RobProvince) July 27, 2023
Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth explained that the layoffs were a “difficult but necessary decision” designed to “simplify and reduce layers within the organization” and ensure its future success. While we sympathize with the soon-to-be unemployed, these words echo a familiar tune: the sound of a corporation backtracking after straying too far into social activism and alienating its core consumer base.
It’s worth noting that the sales slump came right after Bud Light chose to commemorate Mulvaney’s 365th day of “girlhood” on a special beer can, a marketing choice that led many to perceive the brand as leaning heavily toward progressive politics. According to Nielsen IQ data cited by Bump Williams Consulting, Bud Light sales in the last week of June plummeted nearly 28% year-on-year, a significant hit for a once-dominant beer brand.
Anheuser-Busch has been hit with mass layoffs as Bud Light continues to struggle following a woke partnership with Dylan Mulvaney.
Hundreds of people have now lost their jobs as the company's decline continues. https://t.co/QdrNWWd0jn
— OutKick (@Outkick) July 28, 2023
As Oxygen Financial CEO Ted Jenkin stated, “Consumers are starting to say, look, we love the products and services many companies sell us. We just don’t want any agenda forced down our throats, and we definitely don’t want anything political forced down our throats. And if you do, we’re going to exercise our free speech to vote with our feet—and that means not buy your product.”
Anheuser-Busch is now dealing with the fallout from this marketing misstep, which has extended beyond just Bud Light to other beers under the Anheuser-Busch InBev umbrella. While the company plans to release its latest quarterly financial results soon, one thing seems clear: the consequences of mixing politics and business can be costly.
Meanwhile, Bud Light has announced its “Easy to Drink, Easy to Enjoy” campaign, featuring commercials centered around everyday summer experiences and a summer music tour, hoping to restore the brand’s image. Jenkin suggests this represents Bud Light’s attempt to return to focusing on its traditional market – middle-class, blue-collar Americans.
But for consumers, the memory of Bud Light’s foray into political activism will likely linger. Will Hild, the executive director of Consumers’ Research, pointedly said, “Bud Light is a cautionary tale for any company putting politics ahead of consumers – there are consequences, and you’re nothing without your customers.”