In an interview with the Financial Times, Michel Doukeris, CEO of Bud Light parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev, pointed to online misinformation as the driving force behind the controversy surrounding the beer brand’s partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.
Doukeris dismissed the claims that the beer brand’s marketing was politically charged, which he said has caused a decline in sales over the past month in the United States.
The brand partnered with Mulvaney in March to create a beer can with her face on it, which she shared on TikTok with the hashtag #budlightpartner.
However, Doukeris claimed that “misinformation” and a misunderstanding of the campaign caused the intense controversy that followed.
Doukeris emphasized that social media played a significant role in fueling the controversy, telling the Financial Times, “The reality is no longer what the fact is, but is more [about] what the comments were.”
He also reiterated that Mulvaney’s post “was not an advertisement” and the beer can with her likeness was not intended to be widely produced for sale to the public.
In a bid to distance itself from the political controversy and highlight its branding as “easy to drink, easy to enjoy,” Bud Light is tripling its marketing spending in the U.S. this summer to try to boost sales, Doukeris said Thursday.
Following the backlash in mid-April, Anheuser-Busch CEO for the U.S. Brendan Whitworth also released a statement saying the company “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.”
The backlash caused a more than 20% decline in Bud Light sales at the end of April, according to an Associated Press report, and widespread boycotts ensued, with right-wing criticism of the beer brand’s connection with Mulvaney.
To address the situation, the company put Alissa Heinerscheid and Daniel Blake, two marketing executives for Bud Light and Anheuser-Busch, on leave.
Heinerscheid had previously said she wanted to make Bud Light’s advertising more inclusive, describing it as “fratty” and “out-of-touch” during a podcast interview in March. Despite the decline in Bud Light sales in the U.S., AB InBev’s first-quarter profits rose roughly 14% from last year, beating analysts’ expectations.
Bud Light’s sales drop in the U.S. accounted for 1% of InBev’s global volumes in April, Doukeris said, adding it is “too early to have a full view” of the situation. “We will need to continue to clarify the fact that this was one can, one influencer, one post, and not a campaign, and repeat this message for some time,” Doukeris said.