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A Bud Light bottle displays the label: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary.”

Bud Light is being criticized for printing “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary” on some of its bottles as part of its “Up for Whatever” campaign. Source: The Washington Post

Anheuser-Busch InBev is swarming in criticism stemming from part of its “Up for Whatever” campaign, by BBDO. In an effort to engage with its consumers in a spontaneous, fun, way, the company has published 140 scroll messages on its bottles since the campaign’s inception two years ago. Some bottles read, “the perfect beer for getting back stage” while others say “the perfect beer for singing loud, even if you don’t know the words,” for instance.

The brand is trying to appeal to Millennials by leaning heavily on an experiential marketing campaign. It has been well received up until this point, accounting for approximately 60% of Bud Light’s total social conversation – much of it “positive” and “aspirational” according to Rick Miller, vice president at Networked Insights.

However, one of the messages came under fire last week: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary.” This particular phrase was released in early December and gained attention in a Reddit thread on Monday, April 27th.

Critics say that this encourages a “rape culture,” according a recent article published by Advertising Age. According the article, the brewer apologized for its message and issued a statement: “It’s clear that this message missed the mark, and we regret it. We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.”

The marketing blunder has sparked interest across many outlets, from The New York Times to USA Today, among the mediums already discussed. From Jan. 30 through April 29, the “Up for Whatever” campaign averaged about 5,500 consumer mentions on social media per week, Networked Insights said. For the week beginning April 30, that number soared to 8,500 campaign mentions, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The Consumerist was one of the first to pick up the story and wrote, “Given the role that alcohol plays in many things that would have been a ‘no’ without a night of drinking — driving under the influence, sexual assault, vandalism, public urination…it’s probably not the best idea for a multinational multibillion-dollar business like Bud Light’s parent company AB InBev to publicly acknowledge that its product can lead users down a path to stupid consequences.”

The link between alcohol consumption and sexual assault is particularly troubling. According to the National Institutes of Health, at least half of sexual assaults involve the consumption of alcohol by either the perpetrator, victim, or both, making alcohol the most common date-rape drug.

This casts doubt on A-B InBev’s vetting process to monitor the marketing content it produces as the campaign constantly evolves. A spokeswoman told Ad Age, “We have an extensive review process and this label should not have made it through. It’s regrettable.”

Anheuser-Busch InBev has stopped producing the controversial bottle label but decided not to recall the bottles, given that they do not pose a health or safety concern. The company estimates that less than 1% of Bud Light bottles in circulation feature the label.

From a marketing management perspective, here are some questions to consider:

  • Discuss your opinion of how Bud Light is handling the situation regarding the “Up for Whatever” campaign and the scroll message that has been so widely criticized. What, if anything, would you do differently?What other initiatives can Bud Light take to appeal to Millennials?
  • Keeping in mind the company’s intentions for the marketing campaign, can you think of a way to rephrase the message that is more appropriate?
  • What other initiatives can Bud Light take to appeal to Millennials?