Ah, the age-old debate: do you reach a new audience or work to keep your customer? Well, if you’ve been on the internet lately, you’ve likely heard about the recent Bud Light controversy. In this article, we’d like to untangle this mess and examine what went wrong. No matter what side of the controversy you stand on, there is a lesson here! Read on to learn more.
Reaching New Customers or Keeping Old Ones?
Before we dive into the controversy itself, though, let’s do some research and dig up data about the actual ROI of seeking out new customers vs. keeping the current ones.
The data on client retention
According to Forbes (and a plethora of other sources, including Jay Baer and his book, “Hug Your Haters”), it’s much better for companies to keep their loyal customers rather than go looking for a new one. In fact, increasing client retention by just 5% can add up to a 25%-95% increase in profit over time.
By contrast, it takes a hefty investment to win a new customer (and you’ll spend five to seven times more money than it takes to keep one). In many cases, you’re trying to take a customer from a business that’s already in the industry with more recognition and brand loyalty – a losing battle unless the company has really slipped! And that’s nothing compared to the thousands of dollars you’ll invest in ad campaigns, targeting the clients you want and nurturing leads until they become customers.
Upsells are easier with loyal customers as well – because they’re already familiar with your brand and like it. You don’t have to do the hardest parts of making a sale – just offer it to them, give them the details, and allow them to decide if it’s something they want.
A helpful analogy
Look at it from a relational perspective: dating is exhausting. You have to meet all these new people and see if they’re a good fit for you – and things can be really tenuous, to the point where a minor slip-up will mean that they ghost you forever.
But if you get married – while that’s not a guarantee of lifelong success – chances are that you already know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and have accepted them. If you get into a rhythm with that person, it’s entirely possible that going out of your way to make them a cup of matcha tea in the morning (or loading the dishwasher if it’s the chore they hate most) would make their whole day! Why? Because you went above and beyond what you typically do, it is more meaningful to them.
A person you’re dating would probably not bat an eye about that because they wouldn’t grasp the significance of it. Or – if the person loves loading dishes, they might be mad at you for loading the dishwasher wrong or not trusting them to do it right themselves.
Where Did Bud Light Go Wrong?
If you haven’t heard about the Bud Light controversy, here’s a quick synopsis: Bud Light has alienated its client base.
The brand, their VP of marketing at the time described as being “a brand of fratty, out-of-touch humor,” decided to pivot its marketing strategy “to evolve and elevate this incredibly iconic brand.” Her goal: to appeal to a broader audience.
A look at Bud Light’s client base
The marketing VP wasn’t necessarily wrong about her take on what the client base looked like. Here are some niche demographics we were able to dig up:
- Their client base is young – a little over half of 18-29 year old Americans drank Bud Light within the last three months at the time of this poll, and half of 30-49 year olds did.
- Their client base is mostly male – nearly 60% of their audience is male, with around 40% of the audience being female.
- Their client base leans Republican – according to this graphic from the Washington Post, Bud Light has a center/Republican
- Their client base enjoys sports – the brand is often marketed at sporting events, such as the Superbowl, March Madness, etc. According to Forbes, “Anheuser-Busch is historically the biggest advertiser targeting sports fans everywhere.”
The strategy to appeal to a broader audience
Part of the then-marketing VP’s approach to appeal to a broad audience base was to hire Dylan Mulvaney, a trans influencer who’s well-known on TikTok, to promote the product. Mulvaney celebrated a year since becoming trans by enjoying a Bud Light during a March Madness promo, proudly displaying a beer can with a custom design featuring Dylan’s likeness. The caption read, in part: “Just found out this had to do with sports… in celebration of this sports thing, Bud Light is giving you the chance to win…”
Not exactly the type of brand messaging you want to put out to that demographic!
To say that the promotion was not received well would be an understatement: loyal Bud Light consumers immediately began to call for a boycott of the product. The marketing tactic had gone wrong on nearly every front imaginable, alienating young male conservatives who enjoy sports in one fell swoop. Previous customers were even concerned that Bud Light would release the Dylan Mulvaney cans to the public.
To try and deal with this backlash, Bud Light released a statement, attempting to mitigate the issue. “From time to time, we produce unique commemorative cans for… brand influencers, like Dylan Mulvaney. This can… was a gift to celebrate a personal milestone and is not for sale to the general public.”
Later, they released another statement: “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.”
Did it work?
In short, not so far. Bud Light lost $27 billion since the March Madness campaign, and Walmart is clearing Bud Light shelves to make room for chips that no one’s heard of.
It gets worse, though. Attempting to clean up the mess they made by not understanding their target market, Bud Light also managed to alienate the group they were trying to reach. LGBT advocacy group The Human Rights Campaign has removed Anheuser-Busch’s title of “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality.”
It seems that now, no one – not their former customers or their target audience – wants Bud Light in their refrigerators at home.
A similar boycott at Target
In May, Target also saw backlash over releasing “tuck-friendly” swimsuits and other products for its 2023 Pride Collection. Staff members felt unsafe at work due to the volatile backlash, so Target eventually pulled them from their shelves.
Unfortunately, those threats continued, and very recently, stores were getting bomb threats over the Pride Collection at Target. Regardless of where a person stands on an issue, it’s never OK to use force, violence, or threats. Every human being deserves respect.
Prevent a Marketing Mistake with Matcha Design
Marketing is tough, and if you do it wrong, you could pay for it for months – even years – to come. The truth is that every brand has core values, and when these values become mixed up, it can lead to what others perceive as “corporate hypocrisy.” To prevent this from happening, it’s best to get an expert in your corner. At Matcha Design, we’ve been helping clients with marketing campaigns and promotions for decades.
Our first step is always to analyze your target market and demographics to be sure that we know their pain points and what we create resonates with your current and target audience! Want to learn more? Contact us today!