Target and Bud Light’s foray into the culture wars led to backlash from conservative consumers that took a financial toll on each company in 2023.
Bud Light came under fire shortly after it partnered with transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney for a March Madness social media promotion. The beer brand celebrated the influencer identifying as a woman for a full year by sending personalized packs of Bud Light decorated with Mulvaney’s face.
The social media videos spurred an angry reaction from conservatives and beer loyalists who felt the classic American brand was abandoning its customer base in favor of far-left identity politics.
Days after the Mulvaney firestorm ignited, remarks by Bud Light’s former Vice President of Marketing Alissa Heinerscheid created more headaches for the company.
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Heinerscheid revealed in an interview that she was directed to transform the brand from its “fratty” image to one that was more “inclusive.” Her comments went viral in light of the Mulvaney partnership, adding to the company’s troubles.
As sales began to plummet, Brendan Whitworth, the CEO of Anheuser-Busch, the parent company for Bud Light, addressed the controversy on April 14.
The CEO claimed the company “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” adding, “We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.”
Despite attempts to smooth things over with angry customers, Bud Light sales continued to drop throughout the year.
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By May, Anheuser-Busch had dropped $27 billion in market value and sales were down nearly 30% compared to the previous year.
In July, the company announced it was laying off hundreds of workers. In its third quarter, the company suffered a 13.5% decline in U.S. revenue and a 17.1% decline in North American sales volume.
However the tide may be turning for the beer company. In October, UFC CEO Dana White announced Bud Light would be the official beer sponsor of the mixed-martial arts organization.
Anheuser-Busch also pledged $3 million in academic scholarships for the families of fallen or disabled first responders through its work with nonprofit, Folds of Honor.
“Bud Light is the #1 beer in the industry by volume (Circana TUS MULC YTD 12.10.23), and millions of Americans continue to choose the brand every day,” an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson said in a statement to Fox News Digital.
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Retail giant Target faced a similar firestorm from conservative consumers over their own marketing and products centered on the LGBTQ community
The company features Pride month displays in stores every June but attracted criticism this year for adding products catered to transgender individuals, including female-style swimsuits that can be used to “tuck” male genitalia.
The retail juggernaut also faced fallout for its partnership with a “Satanist” designer for Pride month, whose brand featured occult imagery and messages like “Satan respects pronouns” on apparel, which the designer called tongue-in-cheek.
Some southern stores were forced by the corporation to move Pride merchandise away from the front of their locations after customer “outrage” to avoid a “Bud Light situation,” Fox News Digital first reported.
A Target spokesperson said the changes were made due to “volatile circumstances.”
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“For more than a decade, Target has offered an assortment of products aimed at celebrating Pride Month,” the spokesperson told Fox News Digital. “Since introducing this year’s collection, we’ve experienced threats impacting our team members’ sense of safety and wellbeing while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior. Our focus now is on moving forward with our continuing commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community and standing with them as we celebrate Pride Month and throughout the year.”
The gesture angered over 200 LGBTQ activist groups, who demanded Target “denounce extremists” and restock all the Pride merchandise in stores and online.
Target’s stock took a hit and its sales experienced a downturn in its second quarter. CEO Brian Cornell acknowledged the impact the fallout had on sales in a call with reporters in August, Fox Business reported.
Despite the controversy, Target released LGBTQ-themed Christmas products, such as a Nutcracker figure holding a gay pride flag, this season.
In a recent interview, Cornell said the Pride backlash was the first time employees didn’t feel “safe” at work.
Target did not respond to a request for comment.
The heavy hits each brand faced could be part of a “go woke, go broke” trend some experts have monitored with companies whose bottom line is affected after they take progressive social stances.
New polling from Gallup and Bentley University shows most Americans don’t want businesses to inject their opinions on the most contentious political and social issues.
Nearly 60% of Americans think businesses should not take a public stance on current events, which is up from 52% last year, according to the Gallup poll. Political party, race and age were most indicative of how Americans believed businesses should act.
Fox News’ Brian Flood and Kendall Tietz contributed to this report.