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  • Writer's pictureChris Moore

Marketing Gone “Very” Wrong

An article featured in Marketing Dive caught my attention - AB InBev US CMO to resign as Bud Light woes continue. I seriously doubt any adult in the country who pays attention to the news, is on social media, or is a BUD stockholder is unaware of what happened to Bud Light sales this past year, I fall into the first group. The article inspired me to look a little deeper.

Consumer backlash against Bud Light followed an April collaboration with a transgender influencer that drew outrage from conservative consumers as well as liberals who felt it did not sufficiently stand by the influencer in the aftermath.

“The boycott knocked Bud Light off its perch as the top beer in the U.S. and led the company to put two of the executives who oversaw the collaboration on leave. Bud Light’s vice president of marketing, and group vice president of marketing for AB InBev’s mainstream brands, took leaves of absence that were not voluntary. Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev’s U.S. Chief Marketing Officer will be resigning at the end of the year per a statement from the brewing giant. The news comes as AB InBev continues to feel the effects of a boycott of Bud Light.”

The Bud Light boycott over Dylan Mulvaney's trans ad spot has already cost parent AB InBev $400 million. (May go down as the costliest marketing failure ever)

This is not an editorial on the events and subsequent fallout of Bud Light or a personal opinion on the direction of the campaign, but a preface to the following:

I researched several variations of the worst marketing fails in recent history. There were as many different results as variations on the search term but there were several “fails” that appeared consistently in the results.

  • Burger King’s Women’s Day Tweets. 2021

  • Audi’s Infamous Wedding Commercial. 2017

  • American Airlines’ Multimillion Dollar AAirpass Loss. 1981

  • Pepsi’s Social Activism Faux Pas with Kendall Jenner. 2017

  • Dove’s Body Wash Commercial. 2017

  • Coca-Cola’s “New Coke” Flavor. 1985

  • The Dad Test” by Huggies. 2012

You can read more about the list here.  

These marketing debacles are noteworthy because the companies involved have been boycotted, become the subject of racial insensitivity and gender bias accusations, and plain old bad business planning ultimately costing them hundreds of millions of dollars. There is not a monetary value readily available for each, but the New Coke blunder has been estimated to cost Coca-Cola in excess of $30 million in 1985 dollars. The New York Times reported that, in addition to the $4 million it spent on research and marketing, the company lost roughly $30 million due to unsold New Coke inventory. For comparison, that 1985 $30 million would be the equivalent of $84.5 million today, pale in comparison to the Bud Light controversy.

Kudos to Coca-Cola. The information below is still live on their website. They made a very expensive mistake, took ownership of it, corrected the problem at its source, and then pointed the finger at themselves.

The History of New Coke

To hear some tell it, April 23, 1985, was a day that will live in marketing infamy. Just an opinion but I think they may need to change their text to “the second most infamous day in marketing.”

Perhaps a few things should always supersede what is intended to be flashy, trendy, or marginally questionable advertising:

  • Protect the product your consumers want. How can reformulating a successful 99-year-old recipe have anything but negative effects?

  • Maintain a positive brand reputation.

  • Protect your brand image.

  • Make sure, really sure, your message is clear and CANNOT be misconstrued.

  • Brand exposure yes, around controversial topics – NO

  • Honor ALL offers to your consumers.

    • Do the math on special offers before they come back to break your business.

  • Keep personal beliefs as well as social and political ideals and agendas out of your marketing.

Remember what is acceptable to one person may be extremely offensive to another. Sometimes no good deed goes unpunished!


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