Just this week, a major consumer brand experienced the same sort of nosedive as “New Coke.” For those younger than my 57 years, New Coke was a massive error I learned about in depth during graduate school…an error that cost Coke millions in 1985. Fast forward to 2023, Bud Light selects transgender Dylan Mulvaney as an influencer, a mistake that has cost Anheuser-Busch more than $5 billion in just a few days. Yikes! Clearly Alissa Heinerscheid, President of Marketing for Bud Light, missed the New Coke case study during her tenure at Harvard.
Given that I’ve lived in Nashville for nearly 30 years, by default, I call this sort of marketing mistake a real “Dixie Chick.” In 2003 the Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines criticized US President George Bush. Although that seems relatively benign to our 2023 sensibilities, 20 years ago, the country music audience didn’t take kindly to it. And almost immediately, what had been a meteoric career came to a screeching halt, literally overnight. The issue wasn’t what she said, it was the fact that Natalie fell into the hubris trap, believing that she had risen beyond the need to respect her audience, the people who got her and her bandmates to the pinnacle of country music stardom, the folks who pay the bills. Try as they might, even a big spread in Rolling Stone couldn’t save them. It’s a shame they had a natural talent and strong appeal, but it was gone in the blink of an eye.
The first commandment of marketing is “know thy audience.” When we work with clients and dive into an initial assessment, we quickly determine what the client has to offer and who that product most appeals to in order to create a compelling and effective marketing program. Alissa shared that she was trying to expand the product’s reach to a new audience. But she lost it entirely by so strongly dissing the beer’s “fratty” audience in the process.
When the focus shifts from client satisfaction to anything else as the leading marketing objective, nothing good can come of it. Compounding the trainwreck, Alissa then made the mistake of not initiating a crisis management plan. This plan should have been ready to roll out for a situation exactly like this. But Bud Light appears to be the proverbial deer in the headlights on this one, unable to react to their core audience and their non-audience who support their new influencer—a rock and a hard place.
Words matter. And influence is only beneficial if it aligns with the product, audience, and what it represents. In a recent client interaction, we were tasked with finding an influencer for a healthcare client with an excellent opportunity to educate patients to identify ways to afford the healthcare they need. Although the junior marketing team was thinking more Kardashian, the Nuns immediately found a wise woman in mid-life with an incredible survival story and deep insight into healthcare. With a following that includes healthcare media and a strong history as a successful patient advocate, she’s a perfect match for both the client’s consumer and industry target audiences. That’s how you pick an influencer.
If anyone else is feeling nostalgic for a good Bud Light Super Bowl Commercial circa the late 1990s, here are some oldies but goodies.