June 26, 2023
Kevin Schulman, Founder, DonorVoice and DVCanvass
Why did the Bud Light boycott work? I’ll reluctantly make the case that it did work on financial terms if only to get past that debate point and on to the point of the post, which is what we can learn from the social and psychological dynamics of it.
- Bud Light was the top selling beer for 2o consecutive years, and it just lost that title. Its sales have been consistently down 25% since the controversy.
- The most recent weekly sales data have it losing 23.5% and ‘experts’ suggesting it’s bottomed out.
- Those same experts have been wrong every week but even if right now, I’d call this a financial success for those in support.
But why? There’s a myriad of possible reasons, I’ll focus on a few that seem especially germane.
- Availability of Alternatives: There are lots and lots of price equivalent alternatives with roughly equal distribution and ubiquity. And those alternatives are functionally equivalent – taste, alcohol content, packaging, etc. For most issues there is no shortage of charities – i.e., available alternatives. If you sell or buy your donor names, then you can be assured they’re exposed to at least some of those alternatives.
- Strength of Brand: Brand strength cuts both ways. This is typically a positive to buoy you against a public controversy. But, like jujitsu, your strong brand can be used against you if the controversy is seen as directly undermining the affinity of that brand connection. People choose brands to reflect their Identity and Personality. We are what we chose. If what we chose seems to change, we’re intrinsically compelled to react.
- Conspicuous Consumption. Beer drinking is typically a public activity with friends. This creates social identity pressure. Shaving is done in private. The Bud Light drinking, Gillette Razor user is probably a large segment. All the Bud Light market and pyschological dynamics are similar to the ‘toxic masculinity’ dust-up, save for this one. Many premiums require conspicuous usage – clothing, bumper stickers. Your brand is likely at greater risk of successful protest because of it. We humans want to behave consistently, if I’m pulling your sticker off my car I’m not going to donate privately.
- Organizational response: The brand has been a sponsor of Pride events for decades. Heck, this wasn’t their first public marketing effort with Dylan Mulvaney. Bud Light’s response has been trashed by damn near everybody and it seems reasonable to think the response made things worse, not better. The “it’ll blow over strategy” is a dangerous one. Silence is doing something, and it’ll be interpreted through our pre-existing lens. The “drip strategy” often seems incoherent, reactive and contrived – probably because it is.
- Consistency of Message: How many times did you see reference to Kid Rock? Damn near every article I’d wager. Or how about the quotes from the Bud Light marketing exec? Always present. If the reasons and symbols behind the protest are unclear or keep changing, people lose interest.
- Endorsement from Influencers or Celebrities: Travis Tritt and Kid Rock were likely big forces in the spread of this protest. Network effects are real.