Anheuser-Busch can only blame itself for the ongoing boycott of Bud Light after caving to “extremist bullies,” according to the main U.S. advocacy group for LGBTQ people.
Following consumer retaliation against Bud Light for hiring a transgender influencer to promote in April what its former marketing boss called an increasingly “fratty” and “out of touch” brand, group management kowtowed to the pressure, leaving them vulnerable and without support from either side.
“I think we need to reframe this,” Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, told CNBC on Thursday when asked about the backlash. “Companies that did back down to bullies actually saw this escalate.”
Had the brewer only stood its ground—like many other companies supporting Pride Month—the LGBTQ community and its allies would have come to its aid and prevented the precipitous drop in demand that saw Bud Light lose the title of America’s favorite beer last month.
Asked whether she felt Bud Light’s 27% plunge in sales came as a direct result of caving to the criticism, Ellis replied: “It’s absolutely from them backing down.”
In fact, she went so far as to say her community joined in the pile-on and may even be the actual driving force behind Bud Light’s troubles. People don’t want to support a brand that won’t support them when the going gets tough, Ellis argued.
“LGBTQ bars have stopped serving it. [Anheuser-Busch] didn’t stand with us,” she said. “I think they’re taking credit—the extremists—for the drop in sales, when I think it’s actually the other way around.”
Earlier, GLAAD released a statement saying it had gathered together a group of over 50 corporations to sign a statement of their continued support for LGBTQ people after what the organization called an “increase in threats of violence” against the business community for participating in Pride Month over many years.
The signatories, which also included branded consumer goods companies Mondelez and Levi Strauss as well as two beer brewers, rejected the harassment and bullying of LGBTQ people while reaffirming their “unwavering commitment” to the community.
Opinion poll suggests vendors may lose customers by selling LGBTQ-themed merchandise
GLAAD could not be immediately reached to see if it had asked Anheuser-Busch to sign the pledge, but Ellis will be speaking to Fortune on Tuesday for an upcoming episode of the Leadership Next podcast.
Anheuser-Busch did not respond to a request for comment. Earlier this week, however, the chief marketing officer of parent company AB InBev called the backlash against Bud Light an “important wake-up call” for brands navigating the current hyper-politicized climate.
On Thursday GLAAD also published a poll conducted at the start of the month that it commissioned from research firm Ipsos to examine the issue of corporate involvement in Pride Month. While a 44% plurality of Americans believed the businesses’ support was helping advance LGBTQ rights, there were two rather revealing results.
According to the representative sample size divided roughly equally among Republicans, Democrats, and independents, only 13% said a brand or store offering LGBTQ Pride–themed collections or merchandise would make them more likely to buy from that same vendor.
Another 61% said it would make no difference at all, while a full quarter of respondents said it would in fact negatively impact their purchasing decision.
This result suggests—purely from a commercial point of view—that companies would likely lose more customers net than they would gain by outwardly promoting LGBTQ-themed products.
Those numbers effectively flip, however, if that same company subsequently finds itself the target of criticism for its LGBTQ support. Of those surveyed, 29% said they would then want to support that company versus just 17% who would prefer supporting the critics.
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