Quién es más macho?
Modelo's unseating Bud Light is very American
It was been a bad, no good, rotten second quarter for Bud Light – the former King of Beers. In the five months since committing what might be the King of Marketing Mishaps, Brand revenue is down 10.5% and earnings fell an eye-watering 28.2%. It hasn’t slowed parent Anheuser-Busch InBev too much – the company sells one in four beers globally – company revenue was up 7.2% for the quarter, beating analysts’ expectations.
Bud Light, however, is still taking its meals in the kitchen. The brand had run ads supporting trans-athletes before, but something about that one-off can they sent to Dylan Mulvaney really set people off. It sure as hell set Kid Rock off. The blowback was huge, and counter-blow back less so. The threats of violence are off-sides, but to a former ad man, the whole thing is pretty damned funny.
Bud Light’s slow decline started years ago with the influx of much better craft beer into the market. The brand had its loyalist, but they were mostly the football and country music sets. After the parent company was bought by InBev, the marketing department was moved from St. Louis to Manhatten in 2015. There Alissa Heinerscheid was tasked with reversing the brand’s slide. So it’s hard to fault her for reaching out to other demographics, her mistake was declaring the existing customer base (note: the largest demographic in the largest beer market) was “out of touch.”
Out of touch with what, exactly?
Given those second quarter reports, something is off-kilter. The brand quickly rerouted its marketing from sparkling androgyny to sports and country music. The back peddling hasn’t helped regain sales, because some things you just can’t unsee. It has managed, however, to cheese off progressives for not standing by the campaign that was destroying their market share in real time. This time last year Bud Light’s value was greater than Coors Light and Miller light combined – now the two are 50% higher than Bud Light. Modelo Especial, a Mexican import, is America’s now best-selling beer.
I was talking to a terminally hip and woke friend of mine who, at my age, is old enough to know better. He believes that the implosion of Bud Light is proof that the trans community is under attack. I’d argue that the only thing it proves is the rise of meme culture. We’ve been reduced to Broadway actor transitioning to a girl v. Kid Rock taking a machine gun to a case or two of beer – perhaps not as timeless as the Ying & Yang, or Zarathustra carrying on about the light and the darkness, but the only thing timeless about modern America are the Kardashians.
Based on outcomes (no judgement), wading into the culture wars was ill-advised and – dare we say it – out of touch with the better part of the brand’s market share. The lesson here isn’t left or right, it might be to simply sell your wares without lecturing your customer base that they are the problem.
On the other hand, Bud Light has been the number one beer in America for 20 years, and Americans are fickle people. Modelo’s allure has less to do with a marketing misfire than simply not being yesterday's brand. Quién es más macho?Modelo. And why not? It’s got a great story: The immigrant made good by tasting exactly American; a way to play at being exotic while scratching a familiar itch.
And that’s how you sell things to Americans.