TRANS AND BRANDS: THE FINAL FRONTIER
How Bud Light’s transgender outreach has messed with the myth of masculinity
June 1, 2023
By Will and Aria Novosedlik
Brands, like myths, tell us what we want to hear. Their success is not measured by the real fulfillment of what they promise, but by how well that promise lines up with the fantasies we have about ourselves.
Take beer, for instance. The truth about beer is that, as a beverage, it is in decline. The myth about beer is that it is a man’s drink. So when a brand of beer tries to reverse its decline by appealing to a sexually ambiguous customer segment, it’s recognizing the truth, but messing with the myth.
Bud Light’s recent attempt to partner with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney is Exhibit A. As you know by now, Bud sent Dylan a case of cans with her face on them (which, notably, weren’t for sale) as a celebration to mark her first 365 days as a woman. Mulvaney posted a single TikTok video to showcase her gift. With 10.8 million subscribers, it’s no surprise that it quickly caught the attention of the mainstream media.
Within days, MAGA maniac Kid Rock posted a video of himself liquidating several cases of bud with a machine gun. “F--- you, Bud Light! F--- you, Anheuser Busch!”, he yells at the camera after blasting the brewskis. Virtually every right-wing YouTuber from Matt Walsh to Ben Shapiro followed suit, excoriating Bud for the move.
It didn’t take long for Anheuser-Busch to backtrack. The two execs responsible for the campaign — the VP of marketing and her boss—were put on leave.
As the beer can smashfest gathered a head of steam, Bud panicked and promptly aired a new ad called ‘The Shared Spirit’ complete with lone clydesdale proudly galloping across America, accompanied by a v/o with a deep, southwestern drawl: “Let me tell you a story ‘bout a beer rooted in the heart of America. This is a story bigger than beer. This is the story of the American spirit”.
Yikes. Total backfire. Too little, too late. Now both the hard right and affronted left, particularly the LGBTQ+ community, were pissed off. Both called for boycotts. Gay bars stopped selling Bud. Straight bars stopped selling Bud. People trying to purchase it were harassed by far-right vigilantes. A Canadian couple was violently assaulted by a group of men outside a liquor store. Seeing an opportunity to rile his base, even Trump weighed in: “Money does talk — Anheuser-Busch now understands that.”
Gender is no stranger to beer ads. The fact that it has historically relied on sexist imagery was the point behind a Miller Lite campaign that aired one month before the Mulvaney episode erupted. Molson Coors’ Miller Lite ran a video that celebrated the role of women in the traditionally male domain of brewing. Turns out women were the first to brew beer, and Miller’s genius tactic was to remove every printed piece of sexist beer advertising it could find, turn it into fertilizer, and give it to women brewers to grow hops.
Nobody blinked. But after the Mulvaney fiasco, the ‘unwoke’ is slamming Miller as hard as they have slammed Anheuser-Busch, claiming both these brands have been emasculated by the radical left.
Funny thing is, Bud light has a long history of experimenting with gendered messaging. They’ve been making rainbow-wrapped pride cans for years now in Canada. In 2016, they ran a Superbowl spot featuring Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan that satirized the 2016 US election. The message was simple: America isn’t as divided as media has made it out to be. In the background was comedian and actor Ian Harvey, a trans male, cheering on Schumer and Rogan’s ‘inspirational’ speech. While it was certainly a nod to inclusion, it went unnoticed. Why? Probably because trans women are far more likely to experience violence and hatred than trans men.
Rewind all the way to 1993, and you’ll find a Bud campaign called ‘Ladies Night’ featuring male athletes dressed as women. Why wasn’t it completely decimated? To summarize YouTube comments posted when the ’93 era ads resurfaced in response to Dylan’s TikTok: ’Back then it was a joke—nobody thought this would actually happen in the future’. One spot has the men sporting full beards while stumbling around in heels, wigs and dresses and speaking in falsetto voices. We’re meant to laugh at how funny they look as they insist they’re really ladies. Nobody kicked up a fuss, because again, it was ‘just a joke’. Men can’t ever really pass for women, right?
So while the ’93 campaign was just ‘silly’ and trans representation went unnoticed in the 2016 ad, the 2023 TikTok has been Bud’s first attempt at a genuine show of support for the trans community. It’s an appeal to a new demographic – the ‘woke’ left, as the unwoke right would put it. That Bud Light shouldn’t have flip-flopped on its message of support is fundamental. All they did was prove that the message of their 2016 ads, ‘we aren’t that divided as a nation’, is clearly not the reality we live in.
The ‘brew-haha’ has not abated. It’s even becoming an issue in the run-up to the Republican primaries. The Trumpaganda machine is well oiled and already spewing. Now Ted Cruz wants in on the action. Yahoo News reports that he has opened a Senate investigation into his own allegations that Anheuser Busch markets to underage consumers in its ad featuring Mulvaney. Texas Monthly reports that Cruz even wants the Beer Institute to investigate whether Bud Light’s outreach to Mulvaney was against the law! No doubt gay-bashing Governor DeSantis will make it a plank in his platform too.
All these alpha males getting their dicks in a knot over a beer that, let’s face it, already has the testosterone brewed out of it? Talk about beating a dead horse.