The popular US beer Bud Light has long carved out an all-American brand for itself — finding success in its ubiquity by being available in seemingly any bar, yet establishing a niche along the way with patriotic cultural conservatives.
But its Americana image has come under fire in recent days after the brand partnered with a transgender influencer, finding itself in the crosshairs — literally and figuratively — of yet another US culture war.
It all started in early April, when a trans woman named Dylan Mulvaney posted a video to her Instagram that could have easily flown under the radar. In the video, Mulvaney revealed that brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, which owns Bud Light, sent her a personalized can with her face on it to celebrate the anniversary of her gender transition.
“This month I celebrated my day 365 of womanhood, and Bud light sent me possibly the best gift ever,” Mulvaney told the camera.
Though Mulvaney has some 10 million followers on social media app TikTok, the actress isn’t a household name. But the gift to the LGBTQ activist was enough for some conservatives to declare Bud Light a “trans beer” — and call for a boycott against the company over its “woke” misstep.
The beer is so popular that the brand name often slips into country music songs — and country stars were some of the first to react.
The singer Riley Green subbed in the name of another beer during one of his songs at a concert in mid-April, sparking cheers from the audience.
Artist Kid Rock went a step further, posting a video promising a “clear and concise” response to the controversy surrounding Bud Light. He then proceeded to shoot up cases of the beer with a semi-automatic rifle.
While Bud Light might be just another beer, the fraught environment around LGBTQ rights in the United States made it predictable that politicians would jump into the fray as well.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a likely Republican presidential contender, said on Monday he would no longer drink Bud Light as part of his refusal to support “woke companies” espousing progressive values.
Meanwhile, Democratic politicians from California posted photos of themselves with the beer on Twitter.
But the controversy is deeper than politicians trying to score political points. John Rich, a country singer and bar owner in Nashville, told Fox News he has “cases and cases and cases of it sitting back there,” unopened and unsold due to lack of customer demand.
In Florida, one restaurant stopped serving the beer “because of their support of something that is in direct opposition to our Biblical faith.”
Anheuser-Busch InBev has launched a counteroffensive, putting out an advertisement in classic Bud Light style featuring patriotic flair, American landscapes and a US flag.
CEO Brendan Whitworth, for his part, put out a statement trying to avoid taking sides, while seemingly leaving both camps unsatisfied.
“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” Whitworth said without directly mentioning the controversy.
It’s not the first time an American brand has been dubbed “woke,” thereby drawing the ire of conservatives. M&M’s was recently caught in a storm around a decision to make its candy mascots more inclusive.
But that controversy — existing mostly online — failed to translate to lower sales.
“Words are cheap. But action is costly,” said Jura Liaukonyte, an economics professor at Cornell University.
“It’s very difficult for boycotts to be effective in the long term,” she said, based on her study of previous campaigns, though she hasn’t studied the movement around Bud Light specifically.
For its part, Bud Light’s parent has not seen any significant impact to its share price. Some conservative voices, like Donald Trump Jr., the son of the former president, are already saying people should move on.
But controversy continues to follow Mulvaney, whose partnership with Nike is also drawing an outcry.
Not that it’s her choice, she told a podcast last week.
“These people, they don’t understand me and anything that I do or say then somehow gets taken out of context and is used against me,” she said.