Updated Jul 9, 2023 - Economy

The staying power of the Bud Light boycott

Number of unique readers to articles about select brands
Data: Memo; Chart: Axios Visuals

The boycott in response to Bud Light's outreach to transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney has had notable staying power.

Why it matters: The ferocity of this particular boycott — which has entered its third month of headlines — is due in large part to the brand's misalignment with key consumers, easily accessible competitors and the poor corporate response.

Reality check: On average, only 1 in 5 people will boycott a brand due to its stance on cultural issues, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) customer loyalty survey.

  • Boycotters skew older, with 25% of them counting as baby boomers.

Be smart: These boycotts rarely affect a company's bottom line and can often be met with "buycotts" — a movement in which consumers go out of their way to support brands that take a stand with which they agree.

  • A recent example was in 2020, when Goya Foods CEO Bob Unanue alienated a substantial part of the Latino food distributor's consumer base by praising then-President Trump.
  • The consumers who were boycotting the brand were countered by Trump supporters' buycotting efforts. Within two weeks, sales increased by 56.4% in heavily Republican counties and first-time Goya buyers made up 16.9% of sales, according to research by Anna Tuchman, an associate professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
  • Yes, but: While the impact was temporary, with no noticeable sales increase after the three-week mark, the buycott did help the brand stay afloat through the controversy.

Between the lines: Unlike Goya, Bud Light didn't receive the buycott effect because Anheuser-Busch U.S. CEO Brendan Whitworth's statement appeared to try to play both sides, angering each as a result.

  • Plus, other brands that have been in the cultural crosshairs — like Goya and Disney — have cornered their perspective markets in a way that Bud Light hasn't.

What they're saying: The key is understanding your stakeholders and being aware of how even the smallest act can put a company at the center of the culture wars and cost billions, Vanderbilt University chancellor and management scholar Daniel Diermeier said.

  • "It's very difficult to anticipate when the next shoe will drop. ... So [communications teams] will have to up their game to be able to trace which issues are having traction and which ones aren't."

Zoom in: One way to do that is by properly vetting each partnership or brand campaign, says Matt McDonald, president of Penta Group.

  • "Vetting is the political sensibility layer that should sit on top of business decisions. ... The corporate fumbles we have seen in recent months would be avoidable with robust vetting operations in place."
  • "I'm not sure most people understand how extensive the vetting process is in political campaigns. ... If [the candidate] makes a diner stop, they research the diner. If they announce a big endorsement or disclose a big donor, they check to see what that person has said and done in the past. In the corporate space, it's not clear that vetting for cultural or political minefields is really done."

Another way: Penta is also using data to identify future cultural calamities.

  • "We're doing a lot more trend-spotting and identifying conversations that are bubbling up in the parts of the internet that may not be front and center for every corporation," says McDonald.
  • "We've been doing that both from a perspective of risk management to better understand what's around the corner and then [identifying] what is driving conversations culturally, and how you can be a part of it, or not be a part of it."

Editor's note: This story was originally published on July 6.

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