In the wake of a controversial Bud Light advertising campaign featuring transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, the CEO of Anheuser-Busch issued a tepid apology that failed to appease seemingly no one.
“As the CEO of a company founded in America’s heartland more than 165 years ago, I am responsible for ensuring every consumer feels proud of the beer we brew,” Whitworth began. “We have thousands of partners, millions of fans and a proud history supporting our communities, military, first responders, sports fans and hard-working Americans everywhere.”
“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer,” he continued. “My time serving this country taught me the importance of accountability and the values upon which America was founded: freedom, hard work and respect for one another. As CEO of Anheuser-Busch, I am focused on building and protecting our remarkable history and heritage. Moving forward, I will continue to work tirelessly to bring great beers to consumers across our nation.”
The statement by CEO Whitworth seemed to be an attempt at damage control, but it only served to further outrage conservative Bud Light drinkers who were left questioning how such a campaign could have been approved in the first place. Apologizing without providing a clear explanation only heightened suspicions, leaving many to wonder about the underlying motives behind the campaign. Moreover, the apology also sparked controversy among those who supported the decision to feature Dylan Mulvaney in the advertisement. The apology failed to resonate with either side of the debate, leaving the CEO in a precarious position.
As a large corporation or small business, if you’re going to partake in marketing that alienates or upsets a particular sector of your client base, why apologize for it?
Over the years, numerous corporations and CEOs have faced boycotts and backlash for their political stances or controversial statements. However, it is worth noting that some leaders have chosen not to apologize or backtrack on their statements, successfully weathering the storm of controversy.
Back in 2020, David Unanue, CEO of Goya Foods, was invited to speak at the White House for Trump’s Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, an executive order to bolster education and economic opportunities for Hispanic Americans. During the event, Unanue briefly remarked on the company’s history, which was founded in 1936 by Unanue’s grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. from Spain.
“We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder,” Unanue said, relating Trump to the company’s founding story. “That’s what my grandfather did, he came to this country to build, to grow and prosper. And so we have an incredible builder and we pray for our leadership, our president, and our country that we will continue to prosper and to grow.” Unanue went on to say Goya would donate 1 million cans of Goya chickpeas and 1 million cans of other food products to American food banks aimed at helping those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Unanue’s support for Trump, however, instantly set off controversy. Despite social media campaigns calling for a boycott of Goya products, Unanue stood his ground and refused to back down. While his stance attracted criticism from politicians, celebrities, and social media users, it also garnered support from those who shared his political views. Goya products experienced increased demand, selling out across the nation.
The lesson to be learned from these instances is that corporate self-awareness is crucial. Understanding your client base and carefully considering any actions that may upset them is vital for maintaining a strong customer relationship. If a company decides to take a political stance or engage in controversial advertising, it should stand by its position without offering a half-hearted apology that satisfies no one. By doing so, the company demonstrates authenticity and integrity, attracting loyalty from consumers who share its values, even if it means alienating a portion of the market.