A new label on some bottles of Bud Light, one of the brands owned by the beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, is falling flat among women, a demographic group the industry has been desperately courting in hopes of jump-starting flagging sales of suds.
In a continuation of its “Up for Whatever” campaign, a wide blue band low on the label says, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”
Protests quickly erupted in social media, criticizing what was perceived as perhaps not the best marketing language in the midst of public outcry over date rape on college campuses.
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“As a woman, as a mother of a girl and a boy, I find this message very disturbing and dangerous,” someone using the name Danielle Sawada posted on Bud Light’s Facebook page. “I have been a Bud Light drinker for quite a while, but until this campaign ends, you do not have my dollars.”
U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., scolded the company. “This grossly shortsighted marketing tactic shows an epic lack of understanding of the dangers associated with excessive alcohol consumption, such as sexual assault and drunk driving,” she said in an email statement. “We need responsible companies to help us tackle these serious public health and safety problems, not encourage them.”
Budweiser said the language on the label was one of more than 140 “scroll messages” that were part of the “Up for Whatever” marketing campaign that the company started two years ago.
“It’s clear that this message missed the mark, and we regret it,” Alexander Lambrecht, vice president for the Bud Light brand at Anheuser-Busch, said in a statement. “We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.”
The company would not disclose what percentage of Bud Light bottles in the market sported the controversial message. But a spokesman said it would not go on any more labels, effective immediately.
This is not the first time AB InBev, as the company is known, has hit a sour note with its marketing. In March, Bud Light was forced to take down a post on Twitter that appeared to promote some type of sexual harassment: “On #StPatricksDay, you can pinch people who don’t wear green. You can also pinch people who aren’t #UpForWhatever.”
“They seem kind of tone deaf,” said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer’s Insights, a trade publication.
AB InBev has had more success with women through the introduction of malt cocktails with names like Bud Light Lime-A-Rita and Straw-Ber-Rita that are intended to be poured over ice. The beverage line generated more than $500 million in revenue in its first two years on the market, according to Nielsen.
Steinman said it would be difficult for AB InBev to recall the bottles with the offensive label because it had so many “scroll messages” out in the market.