Boycott KILLS Bud Light, ONE YEAR later sales NEVER CAME BACK!

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Why did the Bud Light boycott affect the beer brand’s sales when many other boycotts have only marginal or short-term impact? An analysis of sales data confirms that Bud Light suffered a sustained downturn in sales, more pronounced in Republican-leaning counties in the U.S. And it explains several factors that determine how vulnerable a brand is to a boycott. Boycotts can have a bigger impact when a product is more substitutable, when it is more visible, and when consumers feel psychological “ownership” over it.

Taking a social stance has become a rite of passage for contemporary brands that are hoping to resonate with younger, more socially-conscious audiences. In April 2023, Bud Light tried its hand at this strategy, collaborating with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney on a social media promotional post. This sparked backlash from several prominent conservatives, leading many conservative figures and groups to call for a boycott of Bud Light.

Although several brands like Nike, Pepsi, and Goya have faced criticism for their positions on social issues in recent years, the controversies surrounding these brands quickly fell out of the public eye. Academic research measuring the sales impact of boycott and “buycott” movements has also found small, short-lived effects for the brands involved. Thus, few anticipated the sustained hit to sales that Bud Light has endured.
In this article, we document the impact of the Bud Light boycott and discuss several factors that can make a brand more susceptible to boycotts.

First, we document the sales impact of the Bud Light boycott using a representative 150,000 household panel from Numerator, a data analytics and market research company that sources purchase data directly from consumers. We measured changes in Bud Light sales (in dollars) and purchase incidence — whether a consumer bought the brand — after the controversy, relative to Bud Light consumption patterns and seasonal trends in 2021 and 2022.

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Our findings indicate that in the three months following the controversy, Bud Light sales and purchase incidence were about 28% lower than the same time period in prior years. Notably, this initial decline was more pronounced in predominantly Republican counties (as measured by the 2020 presidential vote) than predominantly Democratic counties. Both sales and purchase incidence decreased by about 32% in more Republican counties versus 22% in more Democratic counties.

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However, unlike with other consumer boycotts, Bud Light has not bounced back quickly. The sales decline persisted for close to eight months, with sales and purchase incidence down by 32% in Q4 2023. Interestingly, the sales decline in Democratic counties became even larger over time, shrinking the gap between Republican and Democratic counties. This additional decline in sales is likely a result of retailers and distributors reducing shelf space for Bud Light, illustrating how boycotts can lead to a negative feedback loop. What started as a consumer-led boycott generated downstream adjustments from retailers and distributors. These supply-side adjustments hurt the brand’s visibility and further exacerbated the negative impact on Bud Light’s performance.

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