Has BudLight’s backlash put the fear of getting it ‘wrong’ into every marketer?

In order to create truly inclusive and progressive work brands have to commit to making a stand

Vino Vethavanam

Associate Consultant Creative Equals


Who could have predicted the saga that unfolded back in April in response to the Bud Light insta post by transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney promoting a beer giveaway? Not only did conservatives (and Kid Rock) call for a boycott against the beer brand, the backlash extended to Target retail stores and even country music icon Garth Brooks.

Bud Light sales plummeted and we’re still talking about it. Unfortunately, this tale sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Backlash is having a moment, on a grand and damaging scale. This National Inclusion Week, it’s time for marketers to have a deep look at why this ‘fear’ is rolling back progress on inclusive marketing.

As marketers, we all want to do better when it comes to more inclusive campaigns that demonstrate relatable and diverse lived experiences. However, while it’s hard to deny that we have made some decent progress in the last 3 years, the uncomfortable truth is that the fear of backlash is stopping marketers from embracing inclusive marketing. “In light of some brands paying the price for making noticeable missteps or only offering up half-hearted or spiritless responses, advertisers are starting to grow wary of pushing boundaries and creating progressive work, even though it has a proven ROI,” says Ali Hanan, CEO of responsible marketing consultancy, Creative Equals.

Progressive work is always going to invite polarising opinions and that’s a risk we have to be willing to take.

Vino Vethavanam, Associate Consultant, Creative Equals

She continues: “In an ever-changing world and economy, the world feels ever-so unpredictable and society seems divided with a multitude of ‘movements’ from anti-vaxxers and climate deniers to the anti-trans movement and TERFS. Media thrives on outrage, while algorithms on social platforms fuel debate forcing individuals to pick a side and take a stance and we’re in a war of ‘hate’.”

The cost of living crisis has seen tensions rise calling for more sensitivity and empathy from brands. Advertising in modern times is fraught with tension it seems. Progressive work is always going to invite polarising opinions and that’s a risk we have to be willing to take.

It’s no wonder that brands are pausing for thought or second guessing their decisions which will effectively stall progress and even undo all the good work that has already been done. Is the fear of getting it wrong, stopping us from getting it right?

Backlash is inevitable - that’s a hard truth and while there isn’t much we can do to eradicate it, we can start to figure out how to deal with it by being smart and being brave.

Progressive storytelling is on the line and in a world where people are searching for an identity in an environment of cancel culture and political extremes, it’s on brands to stick by the values and hold their ground.

Nike and Sainsbury’s have famously done just that with their support of Colin Kaepernick and a Christmas ad, respectively, and there are vital lessons to be learned from them. We can learn from those who didn’t get it quite right and it’s worth putting the time in to figure out why it went so wrong.

‘Backlash and negative feedback doesn’t have to mean that your brand will get ‘cancelled’ but how you respond to it is a crucial part of your campaign planning if you want to emerge from the storm stronger,’ says Hanan.

Divisive opinions aren’t going anywhere and as advertisers, we are being held to account more than ever so employing some smart strategies will ensure resilience and progress.

Guest Author

Vino Vethavanam

Associate Consultant Creative Equals


Vino is a consultant content specialist, brand storyteller and inclusive marketing expert.

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