Bud Light Label Snafu Teaches the Value of Proper Message Vetting

Christine Birkner
Marketing News Weekly
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Key Takeaways
  • ​​On April 28, Anheuser-Busch pulled Bud Light labels with the message: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpForWhatever.” 

  • The label messaging had ignited a social media firestorm because some consumers perceived it as promoting rape culture. 

  • The Bud Light incident shows the importance of having checks and balances within your organization to properly evaluate marketing messages. ​

Marketers, advertisers and label designers got a chance to learn from others’ mistakes last week, and the lesson is a simple but significant one: Vet your messaging thoroughly prior to launch.

On April 28, Leuven, Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev NV pulled Bud Light labels with the message: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpForWhatever.” The label messaging had ignited a social media firestorm because some consumers perceived it as promoting rape culture.

A Change.org petition asked A-B InBev to remove the labels, stating, “The brand is blatantly linking their product to sexually assaulting people while under the influence of alcohol.” The Center for Reproductive Rights tweeted: “So gross. Nope, definitely not #UpForWhatever.” Other marketplace responses on Twitter included comments such as, “Budweiser execs should be ashamed,” and, “Maybe I'll drink a bunch of @budlight & then drive a bulldozer into their corporate headquarters, since I'll be #UpForWhatever.” Twitter users created a hashtag in response to the label: #UpForThingsIExplicitlyConsentTo.

A-B InBev issued an apology on its website from Alexander Lambrecht, vice president of Bud Light, which read, in part: “It’s clear that this particular message missed the mark, and we regret it. We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.” 

The tagline was one of 140 that are running on Bud Light labels as part of the brand’s #UpForWhatever campaign, which launched last year in an effort to appeal to millennial-aged drinkers’ interest in an adventurous, “say yes to anything” approach to life. Last summer, Bud Light converted the town of Crested Butte, Colo., into “Whatever, USA,” as part of a three-day festival to promote the beer.

This isn’t the first time that the campaign has faced criticism. In March, after receiving blowback on social media, Bud Light deleted a tweet that read: “On St. Patrick’s Day you can pinch people who don’t wear green. You can also pinch people who aren’t #UpForWhatever,” above a photo of twentysomething women partying.

Allen Adamson, chairman of the North America region for global branding agency Landor Associates, says that the Bud Light incident shows the importance of having checks and balances within your organization to properly evaluate marketing messages. “Marketers are under a huge amount of pressure to break out, and to be different and say, ‘Hey, look at me.’ In their effort to grab attention, it forces them to take greater risks and be polarizing, but since everyone is running 100 miles an hour and they’re so close to their own target market, they don’t have the time to step back and think about … what could go wrong, who this could offend,” he says. “Always have somebody in your organization who looks at things with fresh eyes. You need a shock absorber to make sure that, as you’re moving fast and trying to be edgy and connect with your core users, you’re not inadvertently shooting yourself in the foot.”​

This article was originally published in the May 5, 2015, issue of Marketing News Weekly.



Author Bio:

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Christine Birkner
Christine Birkner is the senior staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Weekly. E-mail her at cbirkner@ama.org.
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