Beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev said on Thursday it would focus its marketing campaigns on sports and music and appoint senior executives to oversee them, amid controversy over a Bud Light promotion featuring a transgender influencer.
Anheuser-Busch reported a 13.6% increase in first-quarter earnings before interest, taxes and other expenses to $4.7 billion, and a 13.2% jump in overall revenue, $14.2 billion, year-over-year, primarily due to higher prices and despite lower beer volume in many markets, including North America.
In a conference call with analysts to discuss the financial results, Anheuser-Busch executives were bombarded with questions about the implications of the deal. They repeatedly pointed out that the promotion was limited to one influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, and a social media post, and that the beer cans bearing his likeness were not produced for mass distribution.
The company said senior executives would oversee all marketing campaigns before they were launched and that it would focus its advertising and marketing on sports and music. The company said it sponsored the recent NFL Draft and the Stagecoach Music Festival, which took place in California last week.
“Everything we do must be dedicated to beer and its promotion,” Anheuser-Busch CEO Michel Doukeris told analysts.
Bud Light has been the subject of controversy since mid-March, when Ms Mulvaney posted a video to her Instagram account promoting a Bud Light March Madness contest to her 1.8 million followers. In her message, which was less than a minute long, she said the company had sent a can of Bud Light with her picture on it. An image of the can was embedded in the video.
The social media post sparked a backlash, with celebrities and conservative politicians calling for a boycott of the brand. Soon there were calls for a reverse boycott, or buycott, encouraging people to buy Bud Light to show their support.
Bud Light sales slumped in early April, prompting concern from investors who feared the message would harm both Bud Light’s market position and that of other brands from Anheuser-Busch. According to Beer Business Daily, sales of Bud Light fell 17% in the week ending April 15.
Executives played down the decline, noting that it represented about 1% of total global volume and that it was too early to tell if it would continue.
Anheuser-Busch shares rose nearly 3% after the call, to $65.56, and are up 10% on the year. The stock fell to a low of around $63 in April when data began to show declining sales.
In late April, the company said it had furloughed two executives involved in the promotion: Alissa Heinerscheid, vice president of marketing for Bud Light, and Daniel Blake, who oversaw marketing for Anheuser-Busch’s consumer brands. .