Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 22, No. 5, 2023
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Robert J. Lewis
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For more of Liz, visit her fashion/brenda website.


It’s hard to overstate the marketing catastrophe of Bud Light’s decision to collaborate with Audrey Hepburn impersonator Dylan Mulvaney. It should be studied as a worst-case scenario in business schools for generations.

Nothing in recent marketing history compares to this epic fail or better illustrates how presumptuous, alienating, insincere and bad for business woke capitalism can be.

A quick recap.

Dylan Mulvaney reached the “365 Days of Girlhood” milestone. To help celebrate, Bud Light sent over some custom Dylan Mulvaney cans, the influencer shared the moment on TikTok and the rest is history. Rather, Bud Light became history. Within a few weeks, the beer dropped out of Top Ten Beers served in the US, cost its parent company Anheuser Busch $30 billion in market cap, began selling for less than bottled water, was ‘black-starred’ by Costco, meaning once current supplies are gone, they won’t be replenished.

Anheuser-Busch marketing VP Alissa Heinerscheid explained the decision in a podcast by saying the quiet part (about Bud Light customers) out loud: “We had this hangover, I mean Bud Light had been kind of a brand of fratty, kind of out-of-touch humour,” she said.

Oh that’s what we are to you, replied Bud Light’s ex-customers, just a pack of uncultured, unrefined mouthbreathers, like John Belushi in Animal House?

Bud Light assumed it would all blow over.

Narrator: it did not blow over.

The Twitter hailstorm of hostility and loathing continued while Anheuser Busch pretended there was no backlash. It then tried to stanch the self-inflicted wound with a series of missteps that soon resembled a Mr. Bean segment in which the clueless dolt turns the most ordinary situation into a moment of excruciating embarrassment.

First there was the beermaker’s refusal to apologize. Then there was a ChatGPT-generated non-apology followed by a return to the 90s-era campaigns that had once proved so successful. Instead of ‘we’re sorry’ it was ‘release the Clydesdales.’

Bud Light now finds itself in red alert territory—the point at which your once devoted demo begins to pity you. Anheuser Busch CEO actually pled with customers to end the punishment and think of the workers.

Three simple words would have solved all of this: “we are sorry.” But Anheuser Busch is like the clueless ex who cheated and now begs you to come back while denying he did anything wrong. He’s showing up at the bar where you hang out, reaching out to your friends and generally behaving like an annoying stalker, refusing to get the message: it’s over.

Woke corporate messaging appears to be on the same trajectory as a fly buzzing around the room: Imperceptible at first then irritating to the point of intolerable followed by ‘it must die at all cost.’

On US Independence Day, while ordinary folk celebrated with barbecues and fireworks mishaps, Ben & Jerry’s was busy tweeting about America’s wickedness.

Conservative Twitter, which hates lectures from crunchy granola Vermont billionaires in Birkenstocks, responded with loud boos and promises to boycott. Ordinary apolitical types who prefer ice cream without a topping of guilt and shame weren’t all that impressed either.

The backlash led to an immediate $2 billion loss in parent company Unilever’s market cap. That was nothing to worry about. Like all social media eruptions, this one would die down or be replaced by a fresh new indignation. Instead, the rent came due on Ben & Jerry’s virtue signal.

As Nelson Muntz from the Simpsons would say . . . Ha-Ha.

Social media fury instantly turned to mockery. “Your move Ben & Jerry’s!” said Twitter. Also: “Go on! Be the change you want to see in the world!” and “can’t go back on your promise now. That would be a certain type of giving.”

It was an embarrassing moment for the ice cream makers. It also raised an inconvenient question about land acknowledgements in general. Namely, if you acknowledge it’s their land, should you not give it back? In this clip, Baroness Von Sketch wonders just that. Even Indigenous people are exasperated by the ritual.

A similar controversy brewed around Land O Lakes butter after it removed the iconic logo of an Indigenous woman from its packaging. The issue came down to a common misperception among radical progressives: that minorities like First Nations are a monolith. There were those happy to see the butter maid go. Others questioned why, since the illustration was the paid work of Ojibwa artist Patrick DesJarlaits who redesigned the Land O Lakes artwork in the 1950s. The redesign went forward nonetheless, giving birth to this viral meme.

In other words, land acknowledgements risk being construed as a kind of flex. As Aeon editor Sam Haselby described it, “there’s no power move quite like the power move of the people with all the land and money displaying their moral superiority by lecturing you on how they stole it all.”

When brands pick sides, nobody wins

The worst thing about woke capitalism is how it opens brands up to sophomoric tribalism. There’s a certain irony in the way inclusivity divides people.

Blissfully unaware of this irony, Son de Flor aimed for ‘inclusivity’ and unintentionally pissed off the better part of its fan base.

The Swedish maker of modest linen dresses recently collaborated with gender-fluid influencer David Ross Lawn.

The Son de Flor faithful—which consists of a lot of Christian and Orthodox Jewish home-schooling moms of six—were not delighted by the sight of a grown man larping as Laura Ingalls. The dressmaker immediately lost 2,500 Instagram followers and sustained a tsunami of Instagram venom.

In peacetime, the people bothered by this collaboration would have shrugged at a dude prancing around like Maria in West Side Story. But there’s a culture war raging and their side feels under siege. They see OG norms vanishing while lewdness and fetish normalization creep ever closer, like the overflow of a backed up toilet. Internet porn blockers are pointless when there’s pot-bellied, graying middle-aged ‘bears’ in translucent y-fronts twerking at Pride parades and Sam Smith simulating butt sex at an all ages concert.

Son de Flor reacted like a deer caught in the headlights. Its initial response was we meant no offense, which quickly evolved into: we’re inclusive over here and if you’re offended, maybe you should buy your flowy sage-green linen dresses and detachable embroidered collars elsewhere.

Sure. Fine. It’s a free country and a free market. But who does that leave besides gender activists cheering from the sidelines, not many of whom go in for the Trad wife look. Maybe there’s a niche market that likes to cross-dress as the poor cousin in a Jane Austen adaptation? I don’t know much about these things other than . . . that’s a very specific kink.





Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034


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