ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Bud Light has been dethroned as America’s best-selling beer after partnering with a transgender influencer.
According to consumer analytics firm Circana, Anheuser-Busch InBev sold $297 million worth of Bud Light in May, down 23% from May 2022.
CBS News reported that Modelo Especial was the top-selling beer for the month, with $333 million in sales.
The plummeting sales stem from an April stunt in which the beer company sent cans of Bud Light featuring Dylan Mulvaney’s face to the influencer to celebrate a full year of “girlhood.” Mulvaney posted photos posing with the cans to Instagram with the hashtag #budlightpartner.
The Bud Light-Mulvaney partnership quickly brought an onslaught of criticism from people who said they were angry about the company going “woke.”
Within weeks, two marketing executives at Anheuser-Busch took a leave of absence, including vice president of Marketing, Alissa Heinerscheid, and her boss, Daniel Blake.
Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Michel Doukeris this week downplayed the impact of the backlash, saying, “This was one can, one influencer, one post, and not a campaign.”
The company then launched a patriotic ad campaign, which could be seen as a pinned tweet on its Twitter account.
While working-class beer drinkers shun Bud Light for its perceived alignment with gender politics, it alienated left-wing activists who are angered that the company did not stand behind its transgender advocacy.
WGN reported that some Chicago bars announced they will not be stocking Bud Light because the company has not reaffirmed its support for the LGBTQ community in light of the controversy.
Bud Light’s partnership with Mulvaney is part of a recent trend of popular brands promoting transgender personalities in traditional women’s roles. According to CNN, companies like Target, Pantene, Gillette, Citi, Hershey, and Adidas have made headlines for hiring transgender spokespersons.
Critics say the brands are promoting a caricatured version of femininity.
The companies have responded to the backlash by scolding critics, with Nike saying the response was not “in the spirit of a diverse and inclusive community.”
But even as they battle the negative publicity, Target and Bud Light haven’t pulled away from this year’s Pride celebrations. Target is a platinum sponsor of NYC Pride, which requires a $175,000 donation. And Bud Light’s parent Anheuser-Busch is a sponsor of Pride celebrations in Chicago, San Francisco, Charlotte and elsewhere.
Target’s shares have plunged 20% since mid-May, wiping away $15 billion in market value, although that’s partly due to investor concerns about inflation’s impact on shoppers.
Many other big companies are sticking to their sponsorships as well, including PepsiCo, Starbucks, General Motors and Jeep parent Stellantis — all of which said they have been supporting Pride events for decades and are them again this year.
The buying power of the LGBTQ+ community is likely too big for companies to ignore. LGBT Capital, a U.K.-based investment company, estimates the U.S. has more than 17 million LGBTQ+ people with more than $1 trillion in spending power.
According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 21% of people in Generation Z identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, compared to 3% of Baby Boomers. Gallup has also found that younger consumers are the most likely to want brands to promote diversity and take a stand on social issues.
Despite the corporate support, there are clouds hovering over the rainbow.
A majority of negative social media posts about Pride this year are attacking companies for being “woke” and accusing them of sexualizing or grooming children, says RILA Global Consulting, which tracks more than 100 million websites and social media pages per day.
That’s an abrupt change from last year, when a majority of negative social media posts were focused on brands being “inauthentic” and not truly supporting the LGBTQ population even as they expanded their offerings.
Bud Light has long been America’s best-selling beer. But its U.S. sales this year are part of a long-running decline as younger consumers flock to sparking seltzers and other drinks, according to Bump Williams Consulting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.