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We learned from reports earlier this week that two executives associated with the company that makes Bud Light are now on leave. They oversaw the beer brand’s collaboration with a transgender actress and social media influencer. Bud Light sponsored two Instagram posts by Dylan Mulvaney, a trans woman, and also sent her a beer can with her picture on it. Some customers responded with transphobic comments and calls to boycott Bud Light.
Ad Age has been reporting on the story, and the publication’s news editor, E.J. Schultz, spoke with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio for the latest. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
David Brancaccio: What have you learned about these executives, Bud Light’s vice president of marketing and an Anheuser-Busch VP of marketing, both on leave now? From your information, were they ordered to stand down? Or how did it work?
E.J. Schultz: It’s a little bit cloudy. They originally portrayed this as a leave. They didn’t really go into details in terms of if it was by choice or forced. Some news has been reported later by some other publications that it was not by choice.
Brancaccio: I see data that Bud Light sales fell 17% compared to the same week a year earlier. Do you have a sense about whether this will affect the way other brands proceed and their willingness to embrace LGBTQ+ people?
Schultz: Other brands are absolutely watching this. The early sales returns show that the people that are upset over this are actually having an impact. And it really speaks to how the political winds are shifting when it comes to transgender issues. We’ve seen, of course, legislation introduced across many states around transgender rights and trying to curb those rights. And so brands have suddenly become targeted as part of this larger debate.
Brancaccio: It’s difficult from the outside to parse exactly where the company stands on this. The company has defended its partnership with Dylan Mulvaney, saying in a statement it “works with hundreds of influencers across brands as one of many ways to authentically connect with audiences across various demographics.” But then these executives are now on leave, which seems to tug in a different direction in terms of what kind of message the company is sending.
Schultz: Right, outside of that original statement, they’ve since sort of really walked, if not sprinted away from this issue, because of the heat they’re feeling from distributors. They’re almost in the middle because they’ve even gotten criticism from more on the left of, “Hey, why haven’t you come out and had a more robust statement on transgender rights?” They’ve really just said nothing specific since this has happened.
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