The Bud Light Fiasco - Why Companies Go 'Woke'

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Bud Light and the Woke

Who doesn’t love a cold beer?  And who doesn’t want a dose of woke moralizing with that beer?

Personally, I have a long history with tall, cold containers of barley brew. From my first taste of beer behind the barn at my cousin’s place (I was fourteen, the beer if I remember right was Schmidt) to my current occasional indulgence, I’ve hoisted a tidy few glasses of suds in my time. These days I prefer local beers. Alaskan Amber is a favorite, from Alaskan Brewing in Juneau. Denali Brewing, just up the road in Talkeetna, makes some good brews, as does the Matanuska Brewing company over in Palmer. Today’s microbrew market is an embarrassment of riches.


Back in the day, things were different. Local breweries mostly didn’t exist, limiting us to the big national brands. Being chronically broke in our late teens and early twenties (the legal drinking age back then was eighteen) my friends and I tended to go for the cheap brews: Black Label, Rhinelander, and the like. Budweiser was “the good stuff,” commanding a price premium over the cheaper brands. Advertising for most beers back then was straightforward, in magazines, newspapers, and television, mostly appealing to men, in large part the younger, macho, hard-drinking BroDude demographic.

Of course, there was no internet in those days. Oh my, how things have changed.

Which brings me to Bud Light.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, file photo, a beer vender holds up Budweiser and Bud Light at Wrigley Field before Game 4 in baseball's National League Division Series between th

I won’t rehash the controversy; we’ve all seen that done to death, and it’s on the verge of becoming yesterday’s news. I will say that, of course, Anheuser Busch has every right as a private company to decide how to promote their product, even when a certain promotion we could mention seems to be the most staggeringly stupid idea since New Coke. And I can’t even boycott Bud Light, as I haven’t bought any Budweiser products in a couple of decades. Frankly, Anheuser Busch will never notice my absence.

They are noticing the absence of a lot of folks, though, as my colleague Nick Arama recently pointed out. Why? Because they chose to go woke in promoting a product, the main market for which was heavily BroDude. And now they count the cost.

Causes of Woke

But what was the reasoning behind this disastrous decision, as well as the decision of other companies to go “woke”? What, in fact, caused all this? A good look at that could yield insights on the entire phenomenon of companies pandering to the woke mob. So let’s look at some possible causes.

Here’s the thing about causes: Causes in matters like this are always found where a person or a group of people made a decision. So what’s behind this decision?

We knew who, ostensibly, made the decision, that being Alissa Heinerscheid, who oversaw marketing for Bud Light. Note the use of past tense; since the controversy exploded, she has been on “leave of absence.” Why she made this decision, though, is yet unanswered, and we don’t have access to records that might answer some of these questions. But some possibilities come to mind.

  • Generational influences. Alissa Heinerscheid is thirty-nine years old. It’s likely that in part Churchill’s aphorism applies that if one at age twenty is not a liberal, they have no heart, but if one is not a conservative at forty, they have no brain. As with every generation, the current thirty-somethings have different cultural expectations than their elders. Alissa Heinerscheid is of a generation when “woke” attitudes are more prevalent; one can hardly deny this. Also, she is on record as having derided Bud Light’s main target demographic as “too fratty.” She may well have made the mistake of letting her personal attitudes overwhelm the data on Bud Light’s target market, and the “too fratty” comment indicates that she knew precisely who was buying the product, and went ahead anyway, convinced of her own rightness and, likely, righteousness.
  • As my grandfather was fond of pointing out, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the LGBTQ++ crowd is nothing if not vocal. They are within their rights to be vocal, of course, but as Anheuser Busch is finding out, the political Right can be vocal, too, and what’s more, they don’t just squeak, they act. When I was a little tad, my grandfather also was fond of reminding me that there was a reason I had two ears and only one mouth, and the Bud Light folks would do well to mark that bit of wisdom. They are certainly getting plenty of feedback from the Right recently, and there is some evidence they are listening, as note the macho trend in recent Budweiser ads.
  • There are reasons enough for lots of people in the public eye to keep silent on these issues. Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Anthony Bass was forced by Blue Jays management to issue a public apology, and since that was apparently insufficient, he will now be forced to undergo “re-education,” which should bring chills to the spines of those of us old enough to remember the Cold War and the writing of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It’s not inconceivable that Alissa Heinerscheid’s plan for Bud Light met no opposition because any in the Anheuser Busch structure who had an objection chose to remain silent for fear of cancellation. Careers have been destroyed over this before now.
Corrective Actions for Woke

Here’s the thing, though: Politics may be downstream from culture, but culture is downstream from economics. That’s why boycotts can work. As a corrective action, a boycott addresses the three possible causes listed above for these reasons:

  • Generational influences can affect the decisions of a manager with broad responsibilities, but buying decisions are made by individuals. And while generational influences may show some large, macro-scale trends, there are still plenty of twenty-somethings whose attitudes are conservative or libertarian, just as there are sixty-somethings on the political Left, Churchill’s observation notwithstanding. The BroDude demographic, in fact, tends to be on the young side, and many of them are doubtless insulted at how the Bud Light people dissed them.
  • You want feedback? The American people carry their feedback in their wallets. The best of all possible feedback is in the form of a nice, soft, green pile of folding cash – or the lack thereof. Anheuser Busch is now seeing the loss of a fair amount of that cash, and as noted above, they are feeling the pinch. That’s the best and most effective feedback.
  • Nobody has ever been canceled for an individual retail buying decision. One buys what one wants, and there’s an end of it; out of the millions of people making billions of individual buying decisions, it is impossible to single out anyone as deserving of cancellation because they told someone, “Yeah, I just like Yuengling better.”

We have the power of the purse. Several major sports leagues have gone noticeably woke in the last few years; look at their ticket and merchandise sales now. Bud Light went woke. Now they are paying for it. Heckler & Koch, of all the organizations you wouldn’t think would go down this road, had a middle manager make a woke-adjacent comment in an advertisement, and H&K quickly slam-dunked that person and issued a correction. They still have firearms aficionados looking at them somewhat askance, but so far there’s little evidence of financial repercussions, probably because they backed off quickly.  Corporations, even ones as large as Anheuser Busch, do – usually – listen to their customers, especially when their customers are becoming former customers.

As for Bud Light: Most of their former customers will continue enjoying the occasional cold beer. In the end, maybe Anheuser Busch will learn a thing or two from all this. (Then again, they may not.) And, honestly, in the end, this will all likely blow over. In the first place, there are always plenty of people who don’t really give a damn about this sort of issue, and in the second place, plenty of people have the attention span of a blue bottle fly and will eventually fall back into their former buying habits. That’s OK. People are free to make those choices. Plenty of people will remember, though, and never touch an Anheuser Busch product again. And that’s OK, too. That’s capitalism. That’s being free to choose. That, folks, is liberty.  It’s messy, it’s undisciplined, it’s frequently acrimonious, but it’s the only condition fit for humans to live in.



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