First up (to be completely honest): I’m not in a position to boycott Bud Light or any other Anheuser-Busch product.
It’s easy enough to identify pissy beer from the brand without needing to taste it — I’m confident I’ll be able to continue through the rest of my life without ever drinking a single Budweiser. That said, if there is a movement to #BoycottBudLight sprouting up among current drinkers, I applaud all those who support it.
— venus dey mylar (@DarianLovesDemi) April 29, 2015
The New York Times reports: A new label on some bottles of Bud Light, one of the brands owned by the beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, is falling flat among women, a demographic group the industry has been desperately courting in hopes of jump-starting flagging sales of suds.
In a continuation of its “Up for Whatever” campaign, a wide blue band low on the label says, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”
Protests quickly erupted in social media, criticizing what was perceived as perhaps not the best marketing language in the midst of public outcry over date rape on college campuses.
“As a woman, as a mother of a girl and a boy, I find this message very disturbing and dangerous,” someone using the name Danielle Sawada posted on Bud Light’s Facebook page. “I have been a Bud Light drinker for quite a while, but until this campaign ends, you do not have my dollars.”
Alexander Lambrecht, vice president for the Bud Light brand at Anheuser-Busch, says:
“It’s clear that this message missed the mark, and we regret it. We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.”
With all due respect, that’s bullshit.
Anheuser-Busch is trawling a market that’s a bit lacking in discrimination, but even so, I seriously doubt that the advertising campaigns dreamed up their agency, BBDO, are being created by a group of idiots.
Rather than treat the corporate response as an admission of an honest mistake, it should in my opinion be viewed as a smokescreen — not so much a reaction to the campaign, but instead an integral component in the campaign strategy.
The watery beer behind the label has been on the market for over 30 years. Creating some buzz around an old brand has to get increasingly difficult — especially when the age at which young people start drinking is the period in life when they have least interest in imitating their overweight parents.
A campaign built around the hashtag #UpForWhatever is clearly aimed at breaking boundaries — not staying in well-worn tracks.
The outrage provoked by this campaign, far from being fallout from “missing the mark,” may in fact be the mark itself — free publicity on Twitter and across the media.
Arguably, the only way of having a big impact through social media is by stoking controversy. After all, outrage is the currency of the realm.
And in this case, expressing consternation gets turned into an equal opportunity exercise whose participants include executives not only at Anheuser-Busch but also BBDO.
The agency’s Director of Digital Strategy, Lucy Leiderman, tweeted: “Oh no. Bud Light’s new tagline: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night”… ” but then removed the tweet.
Was this just a bit of damage control on behalf of the agency? Maybe, but perhaps Leiderman can be given the benefit of the doubt.
Prior to her arrival at BBDO, she wrote quite astutely about the dangers of removing “no” from ones vocabulary, addressing her warning directly at advertising creatives:
Marketers everywhere are singing the siren song of increasingly outrageous social campaigns. Decision makers are seeing signs that the end of the traditional is nigh. More and more, the creative space has become a world of “yes.” And that’s a problem.
But it isn’t just a problem that results in outrageous advertising. By its very nature advertising is always coercive and always designed to precipitate choices that might otherwise not be made.
Every ad wants you to say “yes.”
As Bud Light lights up Twitter, Anheuser-Busch and BBDO are getting exactly what they want. The only way of making the backlash truly instructive will be if it moves beyond the digital sphere and consumers in significant numbers actually stop buying the beer.
Still, even if to my surprise, the #UpForWhatever campaign turned out to become a very expensive mistake, I don’t anticipate the kind of seismic shift that I would really hope for in American culture.
In the larger scheme of things, this is a somewhat trivial example of a trend that permeates almost every strand of public discourse.
Language, through its relentless abuse, gets stripped of meaning. As meaning ebbs away, there is a frenzy in which everyone is turning up the volume, trying to make themselves heard even when much of the time they have nothing of true value to say.
Advertising is inherently emotive. It is designed to provoke feelings — not thought.
It’s not by chance that BBDO would choose the hook of a generational phrase — whatever — in an effort to fuel mindless consumption, cloaked as free spirit.
Whatever signals a vocabulary already severely depleted as advertisers try and knock out its last line of defense.