Earlier this month, transgender female Dylan Mulvaney posted an Instagram post promoting Bud Light with her own personalised beer cans. Whilst this appears like harmless marketing to most consumers and would result in slight acknowledgement and the continuation of mindless scrolling, this post had woken conservatives from their red-pill-induced state to incite mass condemnation of this seemingly ‘toxic-woke’ campaign. Many conservatives have since boycotted Bud Light with various methods, from shooting cans with guns and smashing cases; although these dramatic responses are disproportionate to a short Instagram clip, it appears that the backlash took a toll on revenue as sales have since dropped by 17%.
Although influencer marketing is not a recent phenomenon, many have shunned the use of Mulvaney in campaigns under accusations of pandering to the ‘woke’ masses and ‘superficial inclusion’. Others have argued that whilst influencer marketing is an effective form of advertising, it is vital to choose influencers that reflect the brands leading consumer profile. In reference to Bud Light’s market research, it would seem perfectly appropriate to select Mulvaney as an influencer to associate with; together with Mulvaney’s vast social media following- 12 million and counting- research shows the LGBTQ+ community typically consume higher levels of alcohol than heterosexuals (MSN, 2023). These findings would lead most to conclude that Mulvaney is a perfect candidate to market towards millennials and Gen Z. Instead, the plummeting sales combined with the two leading executives working on the Mulvaney campaign going on a leave of absence has shown marketers that inclusion is not always a definite marketing or PR success but is instead a guaranteed form of controversy. Interestingly, the decision for executives to be placed on leave highlights that Bud Light is not taking the initiative to speak out against backlash and solidify its support for the transgender community, leading many to believe this inclusive campaign was not as authentic as it seems.
Give us representation… but not too much
Oddly enough, backlash towards Mulvaney is not always from cis men or women. Female transgender Caitlyn Jenner has publicly condemned Nike after unveiling Mulvaney as the face of women’s sportswear, arguing that ‘it is a shame to see such an iconic American company go so woke’. Jenner continued to explain representation must be managed within clear boundaries, stating ‘we can be inclusive but not at the expense of the mass majority of people, and have some decency while being inclusive’ (New York Post, 2023). The irony of this statement fell on little to no deaf ears; Jenner’s plea to maintain transgender awareness to a minimum directly contradicts her own actions.
Back in 2016, Jenner was revealed as one of the faces of H&M Sport, clarifying that this partnership can act as a vital catalyst to evolve the world’s understanding towards the transgender community. Jenner explained the discussion regarding transgender acceptance had a long way to go and it’s an ‘issue of humanity […] doesn’t have borders. It affects every race, every colour of skin. It doesn’t make any difference who you are’. The transgender community have faced decades of discrimination, leading to growing suicide rates and Jenner herself had argued that ‘trans issues have been swept under the rug for so many years. Kids have a very difficult time when they’re young and dealing with this issue. Hopefully, we are showing people that it’s okay to talk about it’. This is a drastic contrast to Jenner’s recent comments regarding Mulvaney’s Nike partnership; however, Jenner fails to realise that tackling prejudice and discrimination towards the transgender community begins with adequate representation. For teenagers and young adults that are beginning to acknowledge their gender and are becoming victim of hate-fuelled transphobic narratives can only be subdued by influencers like Mulvaney to take control of individuality and with the support of major brands; the freedom of self-expression is to challenge social norms that otherwise restrict us.
Several conservatives have taken to Tik Tok to encourage others to burn their Nike sportswear as a response to Mulvaney’s partnership, bashing Nike’s decision to reject ‘real women’ and bend to the ‘woke’ narrative. Nike has since responded to the backlash, imploring the public to ‘be kind and be inclusive’ in this increasingly diverse society; whilst some argue that brands have no position to get involved in social justice issues, consumers now place a higher level of significance on a brand’s values and identity. The public no longer purchase products that meet our needs but instead align with our political and social values; this discourse and fragmented decision-making process has resulted in tethered relationships with decade-long buyers. Amusingly, those who coined the term ‘snowflakes’ are the most emotionally delicate over a couple of social media posts.
Continuing to fight- and post- through transphobia
Mulvaney has since responded to the masses of hate, stating that she's ‘not worried about the people talking about me […] I’m worried about their listeners’ (Independent, 2023). As Mulvaney continues to break barriers for transgender women in the consumer world, it is still unclear to pinpoint the societal harm of featuring transgender people in campaigns; maybe it is the ludicrous, transphobic conservative narrative that all trans people are paedophiles. Maybe this is an unfamiliar territory that threatens century-old religious views. There is still no definitive answer. Hopefully, the conservatives can take a break from smashing their Bud Lights and burning their Nike products to tell us why.
Independent (2023) Dylan Mulvaney addresses anti-trans backlash over her Nike and Bud Light partnerships.
MSN (2023) How Bud Light made its true feelings about Dylan mulvaney depressingly clear.
New York Post (2023) Caitlyn Jenner slams ‘woke’ Nike for partnership with trans activist Dylan Mulvaney.