"June is THE height of wedding season. It’s also LGBT Pride month, and we’ve been a supporter of the LGBT community for more than 20 years. That’s why Bud Light believes we should celebrate every kind of wedding – and everyone’s right to marry whoever they choose. No matter who’s on the cake, the #BudLightParty toasts the happy couple."
What was missing in the general-media's extensive coverage of the new ad was one word: risk. Assessing risk to their brands is a critical responsibility for marketing people. While it's absolutely true that support for gay marriage is above 55% in the country, with over 70% of the millennial group approving, there are two risky unknowns for Bud Light. First, how many of the brand's best consumers lie in the remaining 45% and 30% respectively? And second, will their purchase behavior change as a result of their beer brand's broadcast embrace of gay marriage?
Beer-industry publications were a bit more forthcoming about the risk. Beer Marketers Insights mentioned "lots more leeriness from distributors" about the ad. They also noted:
"So as (Bud Light) goes public with that support (for gay marriage)... it could be news to folks that largely don’t interact with this community and may have a different response."
Put more directly, to the argument in the ad that "Gay weddings are just like any other wedding," some unknown--and unknowable--number of loyal Bud Light drinkers in the general audience might well respond, "The hell they are." (This is most likely the "different response" Beer Marketers Insights so delicately referenced.) If this causes any significant number of loyal Bud Light drinkers to switch brands, the risk to an already troubled brand could be substantial.
The Bud Light marketing people are flying blind here. Hoping their new ad will grow business, they simply have no idea of the magnitude of the opposite result. Research is no help, either. Pro or con, many people avoid candidly answering questions of a sexual-preference-related nature in studies (if indeed such research was even attempted in this case). But the Bud Light distributors have a very keen gut sense for their markets. They know risk when they feel it. Ignoring their "leeriness" could well be a serious mistake.
While Bud Light pats itself on the back about its history of supporting the LGBT community over the years, the fact is, every major beer brand has done the same thing, for about the same amount of time. Gay-themed messaging has been just one of the many tactics in the beer marketers' play books to build loyalty to their brands among this large, important target. The major brands have been heavy users of gay media, and also major sponsors of hundreds of gay events. By design, most of these efforts went unseen by the general-market audience.
Why mention big-game hunting and gay weddings together? Imagine the response if a leading beer brand broadcast a hunting-themed, openly gun-centric ad to the much larger general audience. How many city-dwelling PETA sympathizers or gun-control advocates would continue buying the brand in response to its supporting this constitutionally protected legal pastime? The point: Taking a tightly targeted message featuring issues on which people have passionate opinions, to the largest possible audience can have real risk.
Boldly, foolishly--or both--Bud Light's gay-marriage ad enters this uncharted territory. It represents the first time a beer brand has made a gay-themed appeal, and weighed in on one side of a polarizing issue debate, and done so in broadcast media designed for general-market consumption. It's historic, and historically risky.
Old seafarers' maps identified uncharted areas featuring hidden reefs and unknown weather with a notation warning: "Here be dragons."
Which would make anyone a bit leery.