Anheuser-Busch, the commercial brewery that produces Budweiser beer, hasn’t been doing well lately in winning customers and influencing beer drinkers (debatable quality of its product notwithstanding). First, there was that Super Bowl 2015 ad that employed “reverse snobbery” tactics attacking craft micro-brews with messages like “Brewed the hard way,” and “Let them sip their Pumpkin Peach Ale” (newsflash, Budweiser: most connoisseurs of fine micro-brews prefer traditional lagers and ales and don’t generally care for the flavored ones). It completely backfired, though given the fact that big corporate breweries have been steadily losing market share to local craft breweries, you can’t blame them for trying.
The company’s latest faux-pas, however, really stuck the Clydesdale’s hoof in its proverbial mouth. It was a slogan that even Mad Men’s womanizing, chauvinistic Don Draper would never have considered, even if he’d somehow thought of it.
The Anheuser-Busch company’s most motto, appearing on bottles of Bud Lite: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”
What was the marketing department thinking?
Not much, apparently.
Consider that (according to a July 2013 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) over 97,000 cases of sexual assault on college campuses take place at drunken parties. That is only one of the consequences of alcohol abuse, incidentally; habitual drunkenness also contributes to health issues, poor academic performance and even death and suicide.
Drinking among college students is hardly a new phenomenon. A collection of song lyrics from the Middle Ages, popular among university students of the time, extolled the joys of “wine, women and song.” These were set to music in the mid-20th Century by composer Carl Orff in Carmina Burana. Similarly, a song from Sigmund Romberg’s 1924 operetta of 19th Century university life, The Student Prince, contains a famous chorus entitled “Drink, Drink, Drink!”
The problem is that in recent years, “binge drinking” has become an epidemic on college and university campuses – and that goes hand-in-hand with sexual assault.
Drunken male college students don’t need encouragement on this score – and that is exactly what Anheuser-Busch’s recent motto seemed to provide. It raised the ire of New York State Congresswoman Nita Lowey as well as women and men on social media sites across the Web.
It all started in December 2014 with a slick new marketing campaign. According to a press release on the Anheuser-Busch website, it was intended to “find out just how ‘Up For Whatever’ its [Bud Lite] fans really are.” The motto in question was one of 47 catchy little phrases that appeared on bottles of Bud Lite. According to company vice-president Alex Lambrecht, the messages were intended to be “the epitome of our ‘Up for Whatever’ mindset…designed to inspire people to have fun and try doing something that might be a little outside their comfort zone.”
That may not have been the company’s intention, but that’s how it came across. It’s not the only one that’s alienated consumers. A tweet sent out to Bud Lite followers on Twitter suggested they could “pinch people who aren’t following #Up For Whatever.”
In the wake of widespread outrage, Anheuser-Busch has pulled that particular slogan from the campaign and issued an apology. Lambrecht is now telling the media that the message “missed the mark” and the company “regrets it.”
With any luck, some folks in the marketing department will be regretting it as well. One person, identified only as “Jeff,” issued his own tweet with the hashtag #NoMeansNo: “Bud Lite, the perfect beer for marketers about to lose their job.”