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- Companies like Anheuser-Busch, Target and Disney faced criticism and boycotts in 2023 over their attempts to appeal to left-wing consumer bases with the inclusion of LGBT marketing and targeted products.
- In the past, conservative boycotts have not had much success, but major backlash in 2023 may have changed the trajectory of corporate marketing strategies that aim to avoid controversy, according to experts who spoke to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- “No company — especially no consumer products company with a wide customer base — wants to be the next InBev, and no one wants one of their flagship brands to be the next Bud Light,” Richard Morrison, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told the DCNF. “I strongly suspect that the Bud Light boycott — and how to avoid one like it — has been the #1 topic of conversation in every big corporate marketing team in 2023.”
(Daily Caller)—Companies’ bottom lines are set to recover from conservatives collectively staging boycotts in 2023 after a number of different marketing campaigns and products pushed left-wing ideals, but the backlash has ultimately changed the trajectory of corporate marketing, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Bud Light, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, lost its spot as the top-selling beer in the U.S. in June to Modelo Especial after conservatives boycotted the brand due to a promotion in April featuring transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, similar to other backlash faced by companies like Target and Disney for left-wing marketing tactics. Conservative boycotts have lacked effectiveness in past years, but the backlash delivered in 2023 may discourage future left-wing marketing ideas as businesses seek to avoid controversy, even if those companies have so far been able to weather the storm, according to experts who spoke to the DCNF.
“Regardless of what InBev’s senior management or board members believe in their hearts about transgender activism, it seems clear that they are now committed to stepping away from political controversy to the greatest degree possible,” Richard Morrison, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told the DCNF. “No company — especially no consumer products company with a wide customer base — wants to be the next InBev, and no one wants one of their flagship brands to be the next Bud Light. I strongly suspect that the Bud Light boycott — and how to avoid one like it — has been the #1 topic of conversation in every big corporate marketing team in 2023.”
Sales for Bud Light have yet to recover following the backlash, down 30% weekly compared to last year, according to CNN. U.S. revenue in the third quarter for Anheuser-Busch declined 13.5% per 100 liters, and sales to retailers declined 16.6%.
Consumer boycotts, particularly from conservatives, have in the past failed to affect businesses and their marketing strategies, with calls to boycott home coffee machine maker Keurig in 2017 after pulling advertisements from Sean Hannity’s show on Fox having little effect, according to Vox. Nike received a bump in profits after conservatives sought to boycott the shoemaker following an advertisement with former NFL quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick in 2018.
“With respect to the boycotts, I would say they have had mixed success,” Paul Mueller, senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, told the DCNF. “On the one hand, Budweiser saw instant and significant backlash that led to change. Target has made some changes on the margins. Disney has mostly dug its heels in but they are certainly still feeling heat. Consumer boycotts tend to be transitory. People initially stop buying products and services because of shock or anger. But they rarely change their long-term buying habits.”
Top retailer Target lowered its sales and profit expectations for the rest of the year in August after its third quarter sales fell for the first time in six years. The decline in sales followed conservative backlash due to the company releasing a pride month collection that included LGBT merchandise marketed to kids.
Target has since appeared to double down on its marketing strategy, hiring Erik Thompson as a senior LGBTQIA+ segmentation and pride lead in November. The company recently sold pride-themed merchandise like rainbow nutcrackers and Christmas ornaments during the holiday season.
Disney faced conservative backlash in 2023 over its inclusion of LGBT characters and left-wing narratives in its new movies, like “The Marvels” in November, which had poor reception and box office performance. In Disney’s 10-K financial statement made public in November, the company recognized its social activism as a risk factor for future performance, noting that profitability could be affected due to environmental and social goals being misaligned with consumer tastes.
Bud light stock seems fine at this moment. pic.twitter.com/MQ8GOrYiMh
— OneALL (@bifta9) December 27, 2023
“Many times the eventual outcome is relatively proportional to the offense,” Mueller told the DCNF. “Budweiser, for example, has basically recovered its stock price for its ill-advised commercials. Target and Disney, however, have faced longer and more significant consequences for continuing in behavior that many consumers don’t like. That being said, both Target and Disney face broader market and industry pressure beyond backlash from their political and social advocacy and stances.”
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Anheuser-Busch’s stock price has mostly recovered from the investor pullback following its deal with Mulvaney, after declining rapidly in May from $65.90 a share to $53.40 a share, according to Yahoo Finance. The company’s stock remained depressed below $60 a share until November when it climbed to near previous levels.
Financial institutions have also faced backlash for their use of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors when making investments, resulting in a decline in market share of new bond issuance for ESG investments in 2023.
“There has definitely been a decline in enthusiasm for ESG investing in general in 2023, but that’s likely because of both its own internal contradictions and association with unpopular left-wing policy goals,” Morrison told the DCNF. “ESG in general is much more likely to be focused on climate change and energy use than sex and gender identity politics, but the general association with entities like the World Economic Forum, ‘degrowth’ economics advocates, the UN’s sustainable development goals, and big-government management of the economy has caused a populist rejection of ESG much greater than even a couple of years ago, when the term had very little awareness outside of academic and business conferences.”
ESG investing has gained scrutiny from Republican officials as well, prompting Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to subpoena top financial firms Vanguard, Arjuna Capital, BlackRock and State Street Global in December over allegations of ESG collusion violating antitrust law.
Republican-led states, like Florida and Texas, have previously pulled their money from investment firm BlackRock over the company’s use of ESG investments, totaling $4.5 billion in withdrawals in 2022.
Anheuser-Busch, Target and Disney did not respond to a request to comment from the DCNF.
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