Bud Light’s Dylan Mulvaney partnership—marketing experts react to controversy

Weser said the brand’s relative silence speaks to a need not to further inflame its critics. It must also consider distributors in politically conservative regions where the influencer move might not be popular.

“The strategy is not to fan the fire since the bottom line is these are brands with two audiences, one is the consumer; the other are the distribution companies that purchase these beers,” she said.

A conscious decision

Influencer marketing experts said it was likely that Bud Light could have expected some negative reaction to the partnership.

“Based on our experience working with global brands, it’s highly likely a tremendous amount of research, vetting, planning and deliberation went into Anheuser-Busch/Bud Light’s decision to engage Dylan Mulvaney, and they likely anticipated mixed feedback,” Cooper Munroe, CEO of The Motherhood, a social influencer marketing agency, said in emailed remarks. “The brand made a conscious decision to work with her and appeal to a younger demographic, and, in doing so, promote the Anheuser-Busch brand and values.”

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Danielle Wiley, CEO and founder of Sway Group, said she was in agreement with how Bud Light has played the controversy, steering clear of arguments with its detractors while supporting Mulvaney.

“We would tell any brand when you hire an influencer just make sure they’re aligned with your values and just stand behind them,” Wiley said. “You can’t crumble just because a few loud people might be upset with it. As long as the creator you’re using hasn’t been inappropriate or broken laws, you stand behind them.”

In a highly charged culture, brands need to be aware when their marketing takes on a political tone that could be costly. Kimberly Whitler, associate professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, said academic research has indicated that sociopolitical activism that aligns with political ideology tends to have a greater effect on those who disagree, creating “a negative asymmetric impact,” outweighing the positive associated with it.

“When you do something you think is inclusive but that conservatives and liberals will see diametrically opposed, that becomes problematic for the brand,” Whitler said.

Bud Light, Whitler added, should “step back and listen,” particularly if the brand was taken aback by the reaction.