I love watching people getting hoisted by their own petards. Who doesn’t? Donald Trump getting Covid after mismanaging and lying his way through the first six months of the pandemic? Thrilling. NFT jabronis begging central regulators to intervene on scams they’d fallen victim to after braying to everyone who would listen (and everyone who wouldn’t) the superiority of decentralization? Delicious. Bang Energy’s former chief executive steering the company into bankruptcy because he refused to stop posting? For me, there’s hardly anything better.
This is not an aspect of my personality I’m particularly proud of, but it’s an aspect of my personality nonetheless. So it’s with something approaching amusement that I turn our collective gaze this week to the towering sh*t sandwich that Anheuser-Busch InBev has plated for itself.
April lived up to its billing as the cruelest month for Bud Light. We’ve already discussed the various twists and turns in the brand’s ongoing crisis at length, so I won’t lay out all the sordid details — the predictable outrage in conservative media, the naked grifting, the sniveling boardroom both-sidesism — in today’s column. The most important thing to note is that after weeks of prevaricating on its corporate stance toward trans people, bowing and scraping to the most odious, obvious charlatans on this country’s vile right wing, and whimpering hackneyed platitudes to soothe large shareholders and large-egoed wholesalers, the macrobrewer has yet to claw back Bud Light’s self-inflicted sales slide. And now, Pride is coming.
“They’re screwed,” says Larry Gross, a professor of communications at the University of Southern California and the author of “Up From Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Consider the crisis looming in the immediate future for ABI’s failing flagship. Pride Month starts on June 1. That’s just two weeks from the date of this piece’s publication, and just two months after trans influencer and actor Dylan Mulvaney posted the video that touched off the intervening conservative temper tantrum. ABI charted a dismal course through that maelstrom, trying and mostly failing to diffuse the backlash with bloodless corporate centrism. To the extent that this damage-control strategy worked at all, it worked because the company has not been forced by journalists with access to its executives to plainly state which side of this grotesque moral panic the company is on. (NB: I am no such journalist: ABI did not respond to my request for comment for this story, and hasn’t for the last few. Ah, well!) Absent an adversarial press demanding the firm clarify whether it believes trans people are people, the macrobrewer has been able to toss a couple marketing executives to the wolves, literally throw money at its vassals in the middle tier, and wait for the American drinking public to memory-hole this entire thing. It might have worked, too, except for Pride.
Pride! An annual celebration of queer life and joy that also doubles these days as a reliable pinkwashing opportunity for well-meaning neoliberal marketing grunts and cynical C-suiters alike. Do you know, reader, which company spends a whole lotta dough decking itself out in the rainbow each June? Our pals at ABI, of course. By some accounts, the company has been explicitly cozying up to beer-drinking queer folks since at least 1995 (13 years before InBev took over), when it began running ads about gay and lesbian equality and donating a portion of proceeds to nonprofit organizations that worked on HIV/AIDS issues. Pride isn’t exactly Bud Light’s Super Bowl, because the Super Bowl is Bud Light’s Super Bowl, but the brand has spent untold millions over the past three decades to loudly tout its progressive bona fides to the LGBTQ+ community each June.
(Those queer-friendly credentials have always carried the taint of hypocrisy, considering the company is a major donor to conservative lawmakers and political organizations that zealously seek to persecute the LGBTQ+ community at every turn. But hey — rainbow LinkedIn avatar! Yassified bottles! Drag-queen spokesmodels!)
This track record sets up a conundrum for Bud Light’s embattled stewards. “They’ve been trying to play the cheap ally game with Pride Month and other marketing techniques,” Gross says. “Now that’s bit them in the ass.”
To wit: doing nothing for Pride 2023 would be a conspicuous deviation from years of extremely public, for-profit allyship, revealing it as performative rather than sincere and ceding more road to conservative freaks who harass children about their crotches in public bathrooms and pine openly for the extermination of “transgenderism.” That would be a deeply immoral and cowardly choice from the world’s biggest beer company. But the other choice is scary, and “marketers are easily scared,” says Gross. To roll out the pinkwashing preparations that (assuming the lengthy timelines of enterprise-level marketing efforts at firms like ABI) were already well underway for June by the time Mulvaney posted the custom can that Bud Light sent her, would surely trigger a fresh onslaught of criticism and threats against the company. Bold executives might choose that path anyway, even now, as the waters have begun to calm and right-wing hogs have turned their attention to arch-rival Miller Lite. There’s ample reason to pick that scab, considering how much poison ABI left in the wound. Plus, says Gross, it’d demonstrate strength to bad-faith actors that prey on weakness. “If I were advising [ABI] on this, I’d say to just suck it up and stick with it. Don’t look like you’re backing down, which never looks good.”
It never does. You know what might? A company that, despite its flaws, decides to turn its back on bigotry (among its customers and business partners), weather the not-insignificant, not-existential sales hit, and sail its flagship into the future, damn the torpedoes. There’s no evidence to suggest ABI is that kind of company, or that its leaders have that kind of spine. It seems a lot more likely that they’ll just eat sh*t in a couple weeks when Pride begins — and with something approaching amusement, I await their first bite.
? Hop-ocalypse Now
Times is tough for the hard seltzer category these days as drinkers trade up and out from fermented malt- and cane-based options to canned cocktails made with full-proof distilled spirits. First, The Atlantic told liberal lushes across the nation to turn their backs on White Claw et al. in favor of liquor-based drinks; now, comedian Trevor Wallace, coiner of “ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws,” has forged a new allegiance with E. & J. Gallo’s High Noon juggernaut, made with vodka or tequila. What august American institution will be next to formalize its heel-turn away from fermented fizzy drinks? The New York Yankees? Dark Brandon? Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, at the organizational level?! Stay tuned.
Holy smokes, Russian River Brewing Co.’s release of Pliny the Younger this year delivered a $6.3 million economic impact to Sonoma County… Beervana’s Jeff Alworth makes a (persuasive) silver-lining case about the Oregon Brewers Festival’s cancellation… The Environmental Protection Agency is angling to reform recycling labels for plastics, including those used in PakTech-style handles… India pale ale, craft brewing’s undisputed heavyweight champ segment, returned to positive dollar growth and share-of-total-beer growth over the past two months… Shout-out to the class of shoppers continuing the Kroger-Albertson’s merger fight in court…
? …and downs
Baltimore County told Diageo it’s willing to invest $500,000 in taxpayer dollars to (somehow) keep making Baltimore Blonde locally (for some reason) after the giant closes Guinness’s Open Gate facility in June… Having already brought Anheuser-Busch InBev to its knees, right-wing hacks are now getting performatively red-assed about a Miller Lite ad from two months ago… I regret to inform you that the “100% Woke-Free” grift-beer finally received label approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau… Alex Kidd, proprietor of the popular industry blog Don’t Drink Beer, announced that he has stage 4 colon cancer; hang in there, Alex…
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