Final Ethics Observations On The Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney Ethics Train Wreck

The last time EA visited the corporate cautionary tale was on April 23, here. Today’s post should be the end-point for this particular ethics matter, but you never know.

1. This isn’t going to blow over. Some commenters here and professional woke spinners in the news media tried to make the case that the backlash over Bud Light putting trans performance artist/influencer Dylan Mulvaney on a Bud Light can and featuring the camp figure in a promotion pandering to LGTBQ audiences was short-lived and a “nothingburger.” That has not been the case. Bud Light sales have fallen significantly for the third consecutive week. Beer Business Daily described the response to the campaign as a “shocking deterioration” of Bud Light’s market share. “We’ve never seen such a dramatic shift in national share in such a short period of time,” the newsletter said. Meanwhile, Bud Light’s biggest competitors like Coors Light and Miller Light are gaining consumers while Bud Light loses them.

So the immediate ethics breach here was competence. Corporations are supposed to use marketing to increase sales, profit and favorable views of their products—in fact, they are obligated to. Using marketing and messaging to endorse controversial political positions as self-conscious virtue-signaling is irresponsible, and, frankly, stunningly stupid. Pick your analogy: Bud Light featuring Jane Fonda on a can during the Vietnam war? How about Cindy Sheehan on a can during the Bush administration? It is amazing that Bud Light’s management was so estranged from the views of its own market.

2. It is not the job of corporations to try to change the views of its market.

3. And, as they also should have known, there is no way to backtrack from the blunder. Ethics chess! You have to think many moves in advance to make ethical decisions: what is going to be the reaction? What is the worst case scenario? Is risking the worst case scenario worth the potential benefit? Once the Schlitz hit the fan (I know, I know, but I’ll never have another chance to use that pun) and angry calls for a Bud Light beer boycott descended on social media at the start of April, Bud Light’s parent company made a series of transparently cynical moves to stop the bleeding, including releasing a shameless Budweiser ad dripping with heavy-handed patriotic imagery and placing the executives responsible for the fiasco on leave. So, naturally and predictably, this strategy is attracting accusations that the brand is pandering to “transphobes” after what was hopefully viewed as a commitment to the LGBTQ+ movement.

4. I guess they don’t understand the Cognitive Dissonance Scale at Budweiser. See…

…if your peer group objects to any aspect of the radical LGTBQ+ agenda, whether it is based on bigotry or more nuanced objections to letting people “identify” as whatever gender they feel like being regardless of their biological equipment, the use of ladies restrooms by the penised, the demand that single individuals be called by plural pronouns, schools hiding their efforts to persuade kids that they should be a different sex, pre-adolescent sex re-assignment surgery (or, if you prefer, genital mutilation), trans athletes who have gone through puberty as males crushing biological females in sports competitions, or the ridiculous linguistic confusion over the term “woman,” Bud Light, having deliberately attached itself to this set of controversies, is south of the divide between positive (I like or admire this!) and negative (I don’t like this!). If a member of that group sees you lifting a bottle or can of Bud Light to your lips, that act attaches you to a veritable cognitive dissonance anchor, and like a mob hit victim loaded with chains and dumped in a lake, down you go…. -8,-9, -10, and below.

5. The enmity directed at Dylan Mulvaney is cruel and unfair. This isn’t the performer’s fault. People like Mulvaney make their living on publicity, buzz and visibility. Dylan was offered money and national publicity; of course the drag performer grabbed the opportunity. I would: if Bud Light chose to use an obscure, bald, contrarian ethicist as a marketing symbol, I wouldn’t say no. Even those who find Mulvaney repulsive shouldn’t be denigrating the means of Bud’s blunder. Budweiser is at fault, and only Budweiser.

Leave Dylan Mulvaney alone.

19 thoughts on “Final Ethics Observations On The Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney Ethics Train Wreck

  1. So funny that the smarmy Harvard and Wharton grad woman said if they didn’t run these ads, Bud Light would eventually cease to exist as a brand. I wonder if she’s applying to some other sort of brainiac grad school as we speak.

    One thing I will say about Inbev is at least they fired the people responsible for this disaster. If something similar had occurred in the Obama or Biden Administrations, they would have been promoted.

  2. I don’t see this as a boycott. I see this as people being done with a product. People boycotting something usually have demands. Bud Light’s former customers aren’t demanding anything. They are just done with the brand.

    Let’s see the timeline of events:
    (1) Company hires feminist, woke, woman as ‘historic’ hire.
    (2) Woke female executive finds that none of her friends use or patronize ‘her’ product.
    (3) Woke female executive finds that the customers of ‘her’ product are not ‘cool’ or ‘hip’, like her friends, but are ‘frattish’ and ‘out of touch’. Some of them might have even voted for Trump!
    (4) Woke female executive decides that the brand is ‘dying’ despite its great success, so she needs to turn the brand around.
    (5) She decides to ‘turn the brand around’ by getting rid of the current customers and attract a new, better clientele.
    (6) This turnaround is accomplished by destroying the brand for the existing customer.

    Oh, I’m sorry, that was the timeline of events for the destruction of Star Wars.

    Oh, I’m sorry , I mean that was the timeline of events for the destruction of Star Trek.

    Oh, I’m sorry, that was the timeline of events for the destruction of Marvel movies.

    How many other things does this apply to? How many times have female executives told an audience that ‘this isn’t for them’ and when that audience doesn’t spend money on it, the same executive rants about the fact that the audience didn’t come to patronize the product?

    I haven’t seen much backlash against Mulvaney. I have seen a lot of complaints about Bud Light. The people who drink Bud Light probably aren’t his fans. The problem with the ad was that it was interpreted through steps 1-5. People know when the product is insulting them, this ad was definitely a targeted attack on Bud Light’s customers, and the customers knew it. People get upset when a brand they have patronized and given a lot of money over the years goes out of its way to insult them.

    Just like with Star Wars, Star Trek, and to some extent, Marvel movies, the traditional customers are just gone. I watched the first 6 Star War’s movies, and was a fan of Star Trek until I was told they didn’t want people like me watching. I obliged, but I was mad. Bud Light told the Bud Light drinkers that they were no longer wanted. Those drinkers obliged and they are mad.

    Maybe I don’t follow the wrong crowd, but I haven’t seen any real blame on Mulvaney from the people complaining about Bud Light. I actually suspect that if Mulvaney had been used (using his typical schtick) as a spokesperson for Dexron, the very same Bud Light drinkers would have laughed and applauded GM for a clever marketing campaign.

    I don’t really have a dog in the Bud Light fight. I have been ‘boycotting’ Bud Light for over 50 years. I just see another company entering the culture wars and driving away a customer base that they view as beneath them.

      • If the young biz school woman really thought Bud Light would die if they didn’t hire Mulvaney to bring in new drinkers, why on earth didn’t she pitch an entirely new brand to her management? They could have called it Gender Fluid. Do they teach “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” in biz schools? “First do no harm?” I’m sure that’s not part of woke med schools, but it should be in biz schools.

    • Excellent assessment. As I was reading your comment I couldn’t help but think back to Hillary’s “Deplorables” and elites who couldn’t understand why anyone voted for Trump. Many voters were done with politicians.

      I remember all the hand-wringing after 2016 about needing to listen to and understand people outside their costal elite bubbles. One would think a beer company of all things would understand this.

    • There has been blow back against Mulvaney and, frankly, it is warranted. Mulvaney has been very public about his transition to a female, celebrating it with other ad campaigns including Ulta cosmetics and posting about on instagram and TikTok and other social media platforms. He met with Pres. Biden in October 2022 to discuss trans issues.

      I don’t share Jack’s compassion for Mulvaney – he either interjected himself or allowed himself to be injected into a debate about transgender politics. What did he think would happen? He didn’t come out of nowhere, considering the very public displays he has made over the last few years. That is why Bud Light thought it would be a good idea and a good marketing campaign to celebrate his 365 days as a woman, as if it was a badge of honor or something and marketed that to the supposed fratboy Bud Light drinkers. The ad execs at Bud Light thought was a marketing hill to die on. Well, Bud Light has lost 27% of its market share, costing the company, its employees, regional and local distributors millions of dollars. Mulvaney has only expanded his campaign, taking on new companies that promote their brands to women – cosmetics companies. Why would they do that? Aren’t there about 4.5 billion women on the planet who might enjoy being the face(s) of Fendi or Maybilene or Chanel (sp?)?


  3. Jack said:

    “5. The enmity directed at Dylan Mulvaney is cruel and unfair. This isn’t the performer’s fault. … Budweiser is at fault, and only Budweiser.

    “Leave Dylan Mulvaney alone.”

    Yes and no.

    Yes. People should not personally attack, threaten or otherwise seek to damage or harm Mulvaney. People are often stupid, mean and cruel and social media often enables that. I don’t get it and I try not to participate in such things. I am not aware of the blowback Mulvaney has gotten, but blowback of a certain kind is certainly unjustified.

    No. Mulvaney is an influencer and he certainly influenced people to the detriment of Bud Light, the brand Mulvaney was supposed to be helping. Now, Mulvaney has gotten a ton of exposure out of this, for sure. That may seem helpful. However, that was at the expense of Mulvaney’s influencer status. If Mulvaney thought, “Hey, I hate Bud Light, but I love attention,” Mulvaney’s social capital may be pretty much depleted. Would you, Jack, agree to be the ethical symbol of the NFL if they asked you? I suspect not. But then Mulvaney is probably a bit more of a narcissist than you are. Who would want Mulvaney helping them at this point? Granted, Bud should be a little more sophisticated about marketing approaches than Mulvaney, but Mulvaney proved, in this instance, to be a damaging influencer.


    • No, of course I wouldn’t agree to promote the NFL. But Mulvaney is only an image, with no substance at all. Why is she responsible for how her/his/their endorsement plays? A marketing exec says, we’ll pay you and promote you to sell our beer. We think it will work. OK! Mulvaney doesn’t have the experience or expertise to argue otherwise.It’s not Mulvaney plan, and the performer did exactly what was asked. How is any of this her fault?

      • It’s like miscasting in a movie. Jack Black was a really bad casting choice for “King Kong.” But he did everything he could within his skill set to make the role work. He accepted the part trusting the director—who wouldn’t? He’s supposed to turn down a big contract and a starring role in a blockbuster film by a hot director when the director says, “I want you to do this part”?

        • Actors do it all the time (well, not all the time).

          You have commented numerous times, I believe, how John Wayne turned down Blazing Saddles. He was smart enough to know that was not the part for him.

          Some actors have tried to make the leap from comedy to drama (Tom Hanks and Adam Sandler, even Robin Williams) and have done so successfully.

          Yes, the director has an obligation to cast the movie correctly. Jack Black has a responsibility to improve the product; he also has it in his own interest not to take roles that harm his future prospects.


          • Agreed, but few actors know when they are fit for a role or a part—that’s when they have to trust the director. Brian Childers, who now, among other things, is the #1 concert channeller of Danny Kaye in multiple venues, didn’t think he could be a credible Kaye—I had to talk him into it and guide him through the role. Actually, comedians have a great track record of moving into straight dramatic roles; the ones who can’t are the exception. And, of coures, the Duke was near the end of a career-long mission to create variations on a single iconic character, so he was unusually sensitive to when a role wasn’t right. I think it is asking too much of Black, who is a narrow-range performer superb in that range, to turn down a role that could have done for him what Batman did for Michael Keaton.

        • That is because Jack Black is talented and a consummate professional. He didn’t do a great job in “The Jackal” but he has hit it out of the park on other projects. Mulvaney is not a professional. He is, though, making himself known in the trans issues, which for whatever reason, is the current cultural hot button issue. So, yeah, he is responsible for the blowback, good, bad, or indifferent. The companies employing him are going to pay a big price, too. Oops.


      • I can’t believe I am defending Dylan Mulvaney but… Bud Light came to Mulvaney and offered money for Mulvaney’s endorsement. Mulvaney did exactly what you would expect. There was no altering of the act, the schtick was exactly what you would expect. If Mulvaney had deviated from the ‘script’ and done something out-of-character to insult Bud Light’s customers, that would be one thing but Bud Light got exactly what they paid for. No apologies necessary.

    • Well that was 60 seconds of life I will never get back.

      Where do these people come from and why do the feel the need for positive attention. The answer in my mind is that they have never figured out how to create real value. When someone is even more outrageous comes along they will soon be forgotten.

  4. My fella was a devoted Busch Light drinker. When the Dylan Mulvaney drama started, we had to do some looking into who this character was. Our initial reaction was “oh, it’s some dude being a chick for a year”. No big deal. Then, we found some videos where he’s dressed as a very young girl, in a hotel room, dancing around and flopping on the bed. For us, that made him a bit more than a man in a skirt. If we have to support a man sexualizing young girls in order to be a Busch customer, we can just find other things to drink.

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