“Up For Whatever”: Bud Light and Other Companies are Facing Resilient Boycotts Over Media Campaigns


Below is my Hill column on the growing backlash of consumers against companies like Anheuser-Busch for controversial media campaigns.  For a brand with a slogan of “Up For Whatever,” Bud Light may not be up for the meltdown unfolding across the country. The company is now effectively giving away beer due to plunging sales. It is not good when your brand comes synonymous with self-destructive marketing. “Bud Lighting” is now being used as a verb, noun, and present participle. When Miller Lite produced a controversial ad to attract women, it was accused of “Bud Lighting” itself. Bud Light has now joined names like Bork (as in “Borked” nominees) or Gerry (as in Gerrymandering) that became negative verbs or nouns. That is hardly good news when you are hoping to be known for your beer.

Here is the column:

At a recent baseball game, I watched a fellow Cubs fan facing a dilemma at Nationals Park in Washington. No, it wasn’t the dilemma of whether to cheer another meltdown by a Cubs pitcher — it was the beer vendor, who was handing him a Bud Light. The vendor had only Bud Lights left…for a good reason. The company is now literally giving away beer for free due to a consumer backlash.

With a pained look, the obviously thirsty fan declined and headed for the concourse looking for another brand. Bud Light was dead to him after the controversy over a promotion featuring transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney. The Cubs fan isn’t alone. Bud Light’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, has reportedly lost nearly $19 billion since this controversy began.

Recently, I was at a function where a guest asked a bartender if he had anything other than Miller Light. He told me that he dropped the brand after Miller Light ran an advertisement titled “Bad $#!T to Good $#!T,” denouncing past male-oriented beer ads as “sh*t” for objectifying women.

Various writers dismissed the boycott against Bud Light and said that the company had to just “hold the line” because it would fade and fail. It hasn’t.

But something is happening that has taken experts by surprise. Consumers appear to be holding the line against a growing number of brands.

The response raises tough legal and business questions over companies launching campaigns viewed as political rather than commercial. On one hand, the objections to trans figures or products threaten a type of erasure of this part of our society. On the other hand, consumers are increasingly pushing back against what they see as heavy-handed marketing of causes. In the middle, often, are shareholders.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are now being boycotted by Catholics after the company invited an anti-Catholic drag queen group to be honored at a Pride Night event.

Target is being boycotted over its Pride line of merchandise, including selling “tuck-friendly” swimwear, among other items. The company is being slammed for hiring a transgender artist, Erik Carnell, who is famous for his Satan-loving products, to create the line. Target is now down $9 billion.

I support Target or companies selling pride products or items geared toward trans customers. However, some of these campaigns appear more than efforts to reach new pockets of consumers. Putting aside those with clear prejudices against a given group, some consumers are reacting to campaigns that appear to push political or social agendas rather than products.

As shown by Disney and its ongoing fight with Florida, corporations are now committed to political and social reform campaigns. While companies once eschewed political or social causes that would alienate consumers or damage their brands, executives are increasingly tying their brands to identity politics and controversial positions.

Some, like Disney, North Face and Nike, have doubled down in the face of backlash. Nike publicly shamed its customers for objecting to its use of Mulvaney to sell sports bras, telling them that they needed to be “kind” and “inclusive” and to stop yielding to “hate speech, bullying, or other behaviors.”

Even though most of these companies will likely weather the storm, there is no question that these campaigns are reducing sales and changing the perception of these brands.

As private companies, they have every right to take these stances. Likewise, customers have every right to express their disagreement by seeking alternative products. The only other interested parties are the shareholders, who are faced with lower share values and higher losses.

Shareholders can demand an accounting from these companies. Indeed, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) advocates have often sued companies for failing to be more aggressive in reaching diversity goals. Companies like Facebook, Oracle, Danaher, Qualcomm, Gap and NortonLifeLock have been sued over the failure to reach greater goals of diversity.

Shareholders may allege a breach of the “duty of loyalty” in pursuing such campaigns, but it is a very difficult standard to meet. You have to show that executives are not just acting recklessly, but doing so in a self-interested manner or in bad faith. Alternatively, they can argue a breach of the “duty of care,” which requires a showing that the officials acted in a grossly negligent manner.

It is doubtful that such litigation would succeed. However, shareholders can generally force greater transparency on the scope and costs of these campaigns.

There is a tendency to treat executives responsible for these campaigns as irrational activists. After all, Alissa Heinerscheid, vice president of marketing for Bud Light, may have cost the company billions after pledging to drop Bud Light’s “fratty reputation and embrace inclusivity.”

She certainly succeeded in changing the entire view of the brand in less than a year on the job. Heinerscheid knew that the brand image sells the beer. That image is now unpalatable for many consumers. The social value of these campaigns is lost if consumers reject beer with the branding message.

It is not clear how these losses will impact social messaging through branding, but shareholders will have little influence. These executives are rational actors. While these campaigns may alienate consumers and even reduce profits, they offer personal and professional benefits for senior employees who make DEI policies a priority. The campaigns are the bona fides for executives in seeking opportunities and greater status. While Heinerscheid was put on leave during the meltdown, these campaigns are a net gain for most executives. More importantly, speaking against such campaigns out of concern for the brand is a high-risk move for any executive who does not want to be labeled insensitive or unenlightened.

There is a theory for an analogous phenomenon. It is called Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, wherein everyone acts for their immediate benefit and everyone ultimately starves as a consequence.

Hardin showed how rational actors can continue to act for their own short-term benefit, even if it means destroying the very resource that everyone relies upon to survive in the long term. “The inherent logic of the commons,” he wrote, “remorselessly generates tragedy.”

This is why executives will continue to pursue DEI campaigns regardless of their cost or the loss of consumers. Consumers seem to sense this “inherent logic,” and they are responding with the one means available to change the calculus. Companies will have to find a path through this morass with marketing that is inclusive and edgy without being political or proselytizing. There may also be increased shareholder litigation over these losses.

In the interim, Bud Light has become the unenviable vehicle for consumers to show that they are tired of companies’ virtue-signaling and social agendas. In this perverse market, the least objectionable brand may prevail when the beer guy comes around at the ballpark.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law for George Washington University.

137 thoughts on ““Up For Whatever”: Bud Light and Other Companies are Facing Resilient Boycotts Over Media Campaigns”

  1. These executives are rational actors.

    In the sense that they are winning left-wing brownie points at coastal cocktail parties. But in terms of advancing the interests of their employers, they are failing. They are thus agents serving their own interests at the expense of their principal (the shareholders).

    That is not at all laudable in the same way market economics works based on rationality, as per Adam Smith. With market economics, rational actors produce things society wants, thereby enriching themselves while making others better off at the same time. This type of rationality achieves the opposite: it makes everyone worse off except the cocktail-party-attending, virtue-signaling executives. Well, them and “influencers” like Dylan Mulvaney who takes his million dollars to the bank.

    1. Turley does not quite spell out the agent/principal relationship between shareholders and asset managers. For example, Blackrock manages around $10 TRILLION. But it is managing that money on behalf of clients. It’s true that Blackrock can vote the proxies and thus influence the boards and the strategy of the companies it has invested its clients money. But it’s not Blackrock’s money. It is investing money on behalf of pension funds, college endowments, the IRAs and 401Ks of millions of people, and so on.

      So when Blackrock sends a letter to the executives of all the companies in its portfolio and in effect tells them they need to be social justice warriors, this is a huge and radical change in the social contract. For all of the 20th century, it was understood government set social policy and private business managed the nation’s collective economic assets. Sure, the companies lobbied quietly for policy that they wanted or agreed to, but it was generally based on economics because the goal was to maximize shareholder value.

      Having maximizing shareholder value as the goal of every business is how to maximize the collective national wealth and it ensures all “stakeholders” (suppliers, customers, employees, creditors and shareholders) are treated fairly. Mistreating stakeholders does NOT maximize shareholder value. Stiff your supplies and many won’t do business with you, which means you won’t maximize shareholder value. Give customers shoddy products and many will not do business with you and will find substitute sources. Pay employees below market wages or put them in excessive harm, and they’ll find an employer willing to pay market rates and mitigate the harm. Don’t pay your creditors on time and the bank won’t finance you. So the way to maximize shareholder value is to treat ALL stakeholders, not just shareholders, well. Treat them how they expect to be treated.

      Blackrock and executive corporate management need to go back to maximizing shareholder value and leave social policy to the politicians. I worked for IBM in the ’90s when homosexual marriage was not legal in any state. Yet IBM corporate management became the second Fortune 500 company (after Microsoft) to offer “domestic partner benefits” to homosexual employees. To be competitive, they decided they had to give partners of homosexual employees the same benefit as the spouses of a married heterosexual employees. had. Not doing so risked losing homosexual employees to competitors seeking to poach them. That’s an example of how IBM treated employees fairly as a way to try to maximize shareholder value by reducing potential employee turnover and gaining employee loyalty.

      If the people who have entrusted Blackrock with $10 TRILLION feel strongly about a specific social policy, then they can take the wealth created from Blackrock managing their money and individually donate to the causes that they feel strongest about supporting. Blackrock should not be substituting the values of Larry Fink for those of the millions of people who have entrusted Blackrock to manage their retirement accounts.

  2. What is a man? A man is a human who can inseminate a woman and make her pregnant.

    What is a woman? A woman is that gift to humanity who carries a desperate child within her body and gives birth to the entire world.

    Unserious eggheads who indulge in crackpot politics will tell you about this gene or that gene to confuse other silly people, but first and necessarily, we have always defined men and women by their function in maintaining the species.

    Leftwing asses want to take pitiful, unstable deviancy and make it our masters–even of our precious children. They want to define everything by the most-outrageous exceptions. That leads straight to anarchy and decadence. Since gay marriage became law, Democrat activists needed a fundraising gimmick, and this is it.

    I can be sympathetic with the pain some people suffer, but I won’t take a knee to a fundraising hoax.

      1. “Uncle???”

        How dare you speak to your Great Great Great Great, etc., Grandfather that way.

        Diogenes “Born of Zeus” must predate Kansas by millennia, no?

    1. “Did you know that men can become pregnant and give birth? Me neither! However, it would appear that midwifery students at a British university have been getting the idea that this is entirely possible!
      It is all the result of a workbook being used by students on a £9,000-a-year course at Edinburgh Napier University, which stated that biological men could get pregnant and trans men could give birth even if they had a penis.”

      I think those people have an Elvis Bug in their brain and need to be squashed. Darren is doing it on the blog and I say good for him.


      1. Gentlemen, I thought I got pounced on by a gang of angry trolls, and then everything went dark. When I finally come to, their comments had disappeared. I must have imagined the whole thing. What a strange day this has been. I need to lay off the ouzo 🙁

  3. Bork? I though you said “Bjork”. I like her music.

    Onward and Forward! And don’t spare the babies… fetal-babies, and their mothers with labia majora h/t P&G, too. Progress.

  4. I was listening this morning to the Chris Plante Show and the discussion was concerning a 12 year old boy who attended a middle school in Massachusetts and was told he could not wear a T shirt affirming the fact that there are only 2 genders as it caused some in the school to feel unsafe. I say; forget about the beer and merchandise sellers and let us concentrate on the pernicious messages being pushed by unionized teachers who have all the wrong values and should have their teaching licenses revoked for endangering innocent children with untruths and sexually charged material with or without parental consent. THIS is where our battle with the prog/left agenda should begin with a vengeance.

  5. There is an economic phenomenon that is difficult to explain but it works. If you travel to a city and wake up in the morning and desire a cup of coffee and a bagel, you will find more than one place to purchase these items. There is not government mandate that bagels and coffee must be available for so many people. Yet, in a large city, millions of cups of coffee are instantly available. This is the beauty of a free market system. It just happens, like magic. because if there is a need, there are usually enterprising people willing to provide these products and services.

    When a corporation gets too heady, thinking that they are the only ones who sell an item or figure that they have a monopoly on the market, they will soon find that there are enterprising people who will figure out a way to bypass such a roadblock. Today, there are many small breweries in every city and town. There is no need to buy from the big producers, support local businesses. They can more than fill the gap. The same phenomenon is occurring with new outlets. There are those who obsess about the major networks. When you look at their viewership, the numbers are dismal. They are yesterday’s history. Responsible, independent news organizations are popping up as the major networks are fading. CNN now pulls audiences of less than a million. A local radio station in a large city has more listeners.

    There is another business phenomenon that is blatantly obvious. A company will sell more products if they have a larger number of customers. If they sell a food product and it is good then they will sell a lot of their product. When they disenfranchise a segment of their customer base, they have less people buying their product. These are freshman business concepts and yet they seem to elude the slick, Ivy League MBAs. Sam Walton used to drive around in this pickup and go and randomly show up at some of his stores, incognito, and shop them as a customer. He wanted to keep a finger on the pulse of his operation.

    The customer need only look beneath the thin barrier of brand equity in order to find as good or better products (from smaller companies) instead of those that are being sold by the mega corporations. This is better for the consumers and good for the local communities. Companies like target, who now feel emboldened to sell Satanic children’s clothing have crossed a line with many of their consumers and now they pay for their decisions with lower sales and loss of consumer confidence. This is good for small business.

    These companies should do what they have traditionally done, sell what they sell, make what they make, but keep personal politics out of the market, that is unless they desire to sell only to a niche consumer.

  6. If you’re looking for the “rationality” in ad campaigns that seem to deliberately offend a brand’s traditional customers for the dubious gain of new, fringe consumers, look no farther than the ESG movement. CEOs are terrified of getting low ESG scores, and that’s what pushes them to literally kill their brand. Until ESG is dead and buried, companies will continue to push out the trans, gay, BIPOC messages, and offend the great majority of Americans.

    1. “Until ESG is dead . . .”

      Which will die if one or two prominent CEOs stand tall and declare publicly: Enough, already!

  7. To the completely out-of-touch corporate wokesters, please don’t cram your social justice agenda down our throats. I have no problem with anyone who is gay, lesbian, trans, or anything else. But just because someone wants to pretend they’re a woman doesn’t mean that I have to pretend with them. Thank you, Jonathan, for an excellent article. .

  8. Bud Light will always be know as Queer beer.

    Can’t fix stupid but we don’t have to buy any of their products.

    This Trans nonsense is straight from the pit of Hell!

  9. What Turley fails to mention is how boycotts have reduced FOX NEWS to running “My Pillow Guy” commercials 24-7. Or how right-wing boycotts fail with consumers, and only work for propaganda purpose’s. They went after the NFL, failed. Others are to many to point out, but what’s really funny is when they have, or buy a product only to destroy it on some social media platform.

    1. @FishWings. I haven’t watched or paid any attention to the NFL since they took a knee.

      Nothing but disrespect for the Flag and what it represents. I don’t need FOX or anyone else to tell me how to think.

      Vietnam Vet

      1. Silent protest of injustice is not disrespect, for a flag or anything else, disrespect for justice is a insult for our country and flag.

        1. Business is business, entertainment is entertainment, and politics is politics. The three should never touch.

          When I want to be entertained it is to escape for a while and when I shop the last thing I want is to be preached to. It’s a surefire way to make me take my money elsewhere.

    2. @Fishwings, a “right-wing” boycott seems to me to be working pretty good with Bud Light and Target. Together, they have lost almost $28 Billion with AB losing approximately $19 Billion and Target losing $9 Billion. Some of your assertions are rather simplistic and simply not true.

  10. “. . . companies launching campaigns viewed as political . . .”

    This is far more despicable than “political.” It is perversion evangelism.

  11. What boggles the mind is the small minority of squeeky wheels these ‘See Eeee Oooohs’ feel obliged have to bend over for. Tell them to go put a sock in it.

  12. Companies have been doing this for quite a while with DEI, which is simply a polite way of saying black people as I see no Hmong, Asian Indian, American Indian, etc in the advertising. It seems as if the elite have become so disconnected from American life that everything has to be about race, or it had to be, before transgenderism, now white people can be oppressed too I guess.

  13. The LGB’s need to rid themselves of the Ts and Qs. Nobody has an issue, or almost nobody has an issue, with gays and lesbians, it is the trans movement that has come after kids more and more lately. Why the need for drag reading in kindergarten? Why the need for baby swim wear with “tuck”? Why the need for “non-binary” 7 year old children as a moronic actress claimed yesterday?

    The trans movement is radical, aggressive and abusive of kids. It is the trans nuts that attacked Chappell, it is the trans nuts that shot up a Catholic school. It is the trans nuts that will be at Dodger Stadium as they have have a guy on a cross being catered to by a male stripper complete with a stripper pole. Real edgy huh?? They aren’t edgy enough to have a male stripper servicing Mohammed are they? They aren’t edgy enough to be going after Iran or China are they? It is easy to go after Catholics or Christians, but they won’t touch a Muslim because they hate themselves and they are cowards.

    Us normals couldn’t boycott the NFL because the NFL is our Sunday, we can’t boycott Google for obvious reasons. But we could boycott the NBA and they ended the garbage after only one year. We can and will boycott the Dodgers and they will pay for it. This is the lesson of Bud Light. There are other beers out there and Bud will suffer greatly. I will no longer shop at Target and you want to know why? Because I can shop at Walmart or anywhere else that I want to shop.

    Boycott Bud Light, boycott Target, boycott Disney and do what you can with your wallet.

    1. Thank you! This was a comment I posted on another site: Target has been at this crap for a couple of years, including permitting men in the ladies’ fitting rooms. During Covid, they hired security guards to ensure mask compliance. It is a rare occasion that I shop at Target. Same with Costco (they threatened me with “security” about my mask less state). I have the power of my purse – my retirement dollars didn’t come easy and I won’t spend them with organizations who either treat me like dirt or disregard my safety or privacy.

    2. @hullbobby

      Oh yes you can boycott Google. If you aren’t doing web development, there are a plethora of alternatives to Google as a user, and now that Google is essentially a giant censorship machine, in terms of search, other companies results can actually be better.

      I haven’t had Google anywhere on my local stuff for over a decade, I do not subscribe to Youtube or any of their other services, and I do not use Android (never have!). Ditto for Facebook companies etc. Lots of us have done this. If you are really hardcore, you can still just go Linux and ditch *all* of them, though I understand that isn’t most folks.

      Technology is a necessary evil, and not unlike the MSM with news, Google has hoodwinked a great many into thinking they ARE technology, which is laughable. And even there you can follow the money.

  14. In other news: “Students demand geography professor remove references to Transjordan, Transnistria, and Transylvania from curriculum, claiming homophobic cultural appropriation”

    1. Like many of the crazy headlines from Babylon Bee, I had to pause a moment to decide whether you were joking or reporting an actual issue.

      ‘For example, ‘Field’ is now a racist word in some quarters because it might make blacks think of picking cotton. That insanity is not Babylon Bee; it’s real. The entire Western Civilization seems to have gone insane. That’s real too.

  15. And here in a nutshell lies the morality of the left.

    “We will force you to support diversity.”

    “And if you fight back and it costs our shareholders billions, f–k them.”

    “Forget our duty to the people who pay us; we will get what we want.”

    Angry children, with the selfish ethics of children.

  16. There’s a lot of money in sex change surgery and maintenance for the drug companies and hospitals, not so much the clothing stores and beer companies, apparently. I’m wondering if Obamacare ushered in this era of gender dysphoria? It sure seems to have come out of nowhere.

    1. @Kristen

      If you do the research, it is being funded by a handful of the uber-wealthy, not unlike oxycontin (alas, I do not have links saved, but it’s not being hidden), though I agree Obamacare was a farce and opened the door to much tragedy. Took a long time to take oxy billionaires down, but we did. Hopefully our legal system isn’t so woke saturated as to make that an impossibility now.

      What astonishes me is the selfish greed of so, so many. It is borderline sociopathic, and it is very nearly fully a leftist endeavor across the globe. Follow the money.

      And dare I say it? In terms of how companies are run, this is in alignment with millennials gaining higher level positions in the workforce. Some of us predicted this, nobody listened.

    2. Yep – why else the howls of outrage when a state passes laws against puberty blockers and surgeries for minors? There is no “healthcare for children” in their minds – you are hitting at their pocketbook!

  17. Another view is that this is the first time ordinary people have had a chance to express their feelings about being force-fed gender ideology. Most politicians are too cowardly to speak up. The Dylan Mulvaneys of the world may work in niche fetish markets but as Anheuser Busch and Target discovered, the trans message is toxic in mass markets. You can bet they and other big companies won’t try that again.

  18. We tolerant people- who have done so for years, going against our beliefs, while also hanging on to our To Each His Own mantra- are sick and tired of being told how to act- how racist, xenophobe, fascist, homophobe and trans phobe we are. We aren’t- we may not embrace your way of life but we pretty much go about our day and lives. But we can no longer do that- it is shoved in our face 24/7. The straw finally broke the camel’s back.

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