There’s a classic @dril tweet that goes [all sic]: “turning a big dial taht says “Racism” on it and constantly looking back at the audience for approval like a contestant on the price is right.”
It’s a fool’s errand to try to translate the wisdom of shitposting’s Shakespeare into common parlance, so instead, I’ll simply refer you to a still-unfolding contemporary example: Anheuser-Busch InBev’s bungling, bloodless, and utterly cowardly mismanagement of the vile anti-trans backlash against Bud Light this month. In the face of a conservative outrage as manufactured and predictable as it is grotesque, the macrobrewer’s executives have opted for capitulation over courage. I’m not saying Brendan Whitworth, the chief executive of ABI’s American subsidiary, has been fiddling with a literal knob at Bud HQ that says “Transphobia,” hoping to find a setting that satisfies the cynical charlatans and sweating rubes in the peanut gallery. I’m just asking: Would this have gone any differently if he had been?
If you’re blessedly ignorant to this sordid little affair, here’s a quick primer. On April 1, Dylan Mulvaney — a Broadway actor and influencer who’s spent the past year documenting her transition to a massive audience of old and new fans — posted a video to Instagram to show off a custom Bud Light can with her face on it that she’d received from either the brand itself, or an agency working with the brand (a distinction without a difference). Shortly thereafter, the video began making the rounds among transphobes and conservatives (another distinction without a difference), who began hooting and hollering about ABI “shoving identity politics down our throats” with this unremarkable, one-off, social-media-only promotion.
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Three days into this performative teeth-gnashing, Robert “Kid Rock” Ritchie shot a bunch of Bud Light with an assault rifle and posted the video to Elon Musk’s Twitter, where it now has over 52 million views. Five days after that, I reported how right-wing operatives from the Federalist Society, also-rans from the Barstool Sports media universe, and anonymous trolls from 4Chan (distinction, difference, etc.) were hard at work focusing this bigoted wrath at two women — ABI vice-president of corporate communications Jennifer Morris, and Bud Light vice president of marketing Alissa Heinerscheid — with viral posts shrieking over their appearances and stated interests in diversifying the company and Bud Light’s waning customer base. Nine days: Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller published 15-year-old photos of Heinerscheid drinking in college as “evidence” that she was a hypocrite for correctly identifying Bud Light’s long standing “fratty” image as a potential obstacle to broadening its waning appeal with U.S. drinkers, while the (since-canned) pundit smeared the executive to 3.3 million viewers on his top-rated cable hate hour. Twelve days: Vox’s Emily Stewart reported that the outlet had been copied on several bomb threats emailed to ABI. And so on.
Through all of this, the macrobrewer made nearly no public-facing moves to address the frothing bigotry it had unleashed. Early on, the firm issued a pat statement noting that it “works with hundreds of influencers across our brands,” and that the custom can it sent Mulvaney was “not for sale to the general public.” Bud Light’s social channels went dark for nearly two weeks. The influencer herself was, as far as I can tell, left to fend for herself. Finally, 14 days after the maelstrom touched off, Whitworth broke his silence with a Friday afternoon press release entitled “Our Responsibility to America.”
It was mealy-mouthed centrist pap. “From the kumbaya title to the vapid tropes of jobs, troops, and sports, to the glaring lack of support for the marginalized communities that ABI’s brands have been all too happy to incorporate into their advertising in the past, this statement indicates ABI believes reconciliation is still on the table, which is just a fundamental misreading of the American moment,” I wrote at the time. Whitworth, a former Marine, left the vicious harassment of both Mulvaney and his own employees unaddressed, trying instead to assuage the roiling right-wing id with platitudes about how beer brings people together.
It’s a long-running ABI marketing fiction laid particularly bare by the vitriol the company’s own flagship beer summoned through the first half of this month. But make no mistake: This was also the company turning the dial. Bud Light advanced a position that trans people (in this case, Mulvaney) and trans allies (her millions of followers and their collective billions of potential media impressions) were worth pandering to, only to cut bait when the sharks began to circle, tossing clichéd chum in its wake in hopes of covering its retreat. If you squinted at Whitworth’s statement, you can almost see the CEO turning his back on the trans community and his own staff and pleading with the braying rabble for a do-over. Sorry we reminded you trans people exist, reads the unwritten message between his wooden lines. We won’t do that any more. What is that, if not transphobia? If not cowardice?
Whitworth’s say-nothing statement may have soothed some institutional investors, but it did little to quell right-wing operatives’ attacks on the company. (Forget about Mulvaney, or his browbeaten staffers, or the millions of LGBTQ+ people across the country who get to watch the world’s biggest beer company deliberate their worth in real time with sneering chauvinists intent on their destruction. The dial has spoken!) So this past Friday, the firm tossed more chum into the water — the jobs of Heinerscheid and her boss, Daniel Blake. Fabulist buffoon and conservative stooge Benny Johnson celebrated the victory this past weekend on his YouTube channel, as did millions of Facebook uncles across the country. It sure looks like a W: The Wall Street Journal reports that the two execs were forced into involuntary leaves of absence, while ABI characterizes the move as “some adjustments to streamline the structure of our marketing function to reduce layers.” Sounds like a distinction without a difference to me!
ABI did not respond to Hop Take’s request for comment for this column. Maybe the firm is too busy freaking out about Bud Light’s sales slide, which has only accelerated the more it has fiddled with the dial. Or maybe the corporate messaging machine was focused on getting more eyeballs on this new Budweiser spot. Released the same day as Whitworth’s feeble fumblerooski and shot through with both-sides bromides so stale that even the laziest distributor in the country would flag them as out of code, the ad watches, as John Oliver put it, “like the results of feeding an AI program the prompt: America, freedom, I’m sorry.”
“It is pretty annoying to be both sides-ing something when the two sides are: ‘I am trans,’ and, ‘That makes me so mad I’m gonna shoot $65 worth of non-refundable beer,’” the late-night host said this past Sunday. “When bigots are loudly announcing they don’t like your beer because they are bigots, that is an opportunity for you to say, ‘Then our beer is not for you.’”
The fact that ABI passed on that slam-dunk opportunity to clarify its stance on the existence of trans people — a referendum that it called down upon itself in a profit-seeking promotional exercise, mind you — tells me everything I need to know about the King of Beers. Talk is cheap! It’s so goddamned cheap, in fact, that for the past few years the macrobrewer has been able to loudly tout its perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s “Equality Index,” drape itself in rainbows every Pride Month, and still have hundreds of thousands of dollars left over to funnel into the coffers of retrograde Republican lawmakers across the country via its corporate political action committee. Those politicians have used the beer money to advance a breathtaking rash of anti-LGBTQ+ bills designed to rob trans Americans of the very freedoms the company supposedly holds so dear. The least ABI could possibly do is say it stands with trans people, its own employees, and the majority of people in the U.S. who oppose anti-trans discrimination. It wouldn’t be worth sh*t, mind you, but neither is Whitworth’s simpish equivocating, or the soft-focus centrist jingoism the company loves to flog these days.
But Dave, you cry, the boycott is working! The sales are down! Look at the stock! To which I say two things. First, Bud Light’s sales have been down for years. This “just steepens that curve of decline that was already happening,” as Beer Business Daily’s Harry Schumacher told The Times. It’s a brand in twilight, and though sales will eventually rebound to the modern mean, Bud Light will never recapture the volumes of its heyday. Which is probably part of the reason the stock has mostly stabilized: As of Wednesday morning, $BUD is basically even with its 52-week high. Financially speaking, this little tempest in the Tea Party is hardly a long-term threat compared to, say, ABI’s dismal innovation pipeline. This company spent 10 years and untold millions developing Bud Light Next! If a 17 percent sales dip over a single week of April was existential to such a massively diversified multinational firm, it would have collapsed under its own incompetence years ago.
Second: Whether Bud Light, under Heinerscheid’s direction, chose this fight, or was implicated in it by “a third-party ad agency … without higher level approval” (as one Texas distributor claimed, without evidence, in a press release this week, echoing social-media chatter), ABI was presented with a straightforward choice this month. Pay just a tiny bit of lip service to trans people’s existence, or give ground to bloodthirsty ideologues and self-interested hustlers?
The King of Beers bent the knee. It chose the dial. There’s no moral defense for ABI’s corporate cowardice. But then, ABI, like most corporations, is always glad to choose wrong, as long as the price is right.
🤯 Hop-ocalypse Now
They say “don’t bring sand to a beach” because it’s the most redundant thing imaginable — until now. Last week, news broke that port authorities at Belgium’s Port of Antwerp had dumped over 2,000 cans of Miller High Life that had been ordered by an unidentified customer in Germany. The reason behind such wanton destruction was simple: The Comité Champagne took umbrage with the brand’s iconic “Champagne of Beers” slogan, and kiboshed the lot. The reason somebody would foot the bill on a transatlantic voyage for a bunch of Yankee pool-shooting fizz to a nation that produces some of the finest beers the world has ever known, though? That mystery, reader, remains unsolved.
In New Jersey, a craft-on-craft tie-up as state volume leader Cape May Brewing Co. acquires Flying Fish Brewing Co. … And another (smaller) tie-up in Georgia, as NoFo Brewing Co. buys Tantrum Brewing…
📉 …and downs
As Bang Energy flails in Bang-ruptcy, Monster seeks dismissal of “puffery” countersuit… After just seven months, Milwaukee’s MobCraft Beer aborts its Denver expansion… Right-wing profiteer Seth Weathers finally found a contract brewer, Georgia’s Big Kettle Brewing, for his “100% Woke Free Beer”…
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