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Nike & Bud Light: Embracing Inclusivity or Shooting Themselves in the Foot?

Brands are bending over backward to show how inclusive and diverse they are, and yet, sometimes they don’t seem to get it right. The latest case in point is Nike and Bud Light’s partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

In this blog post, I will discuss how brands can learn from this situation and avoid similar pitfalls in the future.

1. Never Ignore the Core Audience

In today’s marketing landscape, brands are always walking a tightrope. The onus to get the balance right between promoting diversity and keeping your core consumers happy is on brands.

But, if your marketing team, as it goes about achieving the inclusivity KPIs, disregards the brand’s DNA or the core audience that brought it to dance, then trouble can’t be far.

Dylan Mulvaney
Dylan Mulvaney (Image source: Variety)

Nike and Bud Light also seem to have missed the memo. Their partnership with Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender TikTok influencer, has ruffled more than a few feathers among their loyal consumer base.

The dwindling sales numbers and crashing stock prices only suggest that any marketing move that comes at the expense of the existing audience will only backfire.

2. Ensure Ambassadors Reflect Your Brand’s Values and Demographics

Nike thought it was a fabulous idea to have Dylan Mulvaney represent their women’s sports apparel. However, it was a move that had ‘boomerang’ written all over it.

I mean, who in their right mind will have a transgender female, with intact male genitalia, represent women’s sports apparel? The audacity!

Nike - Dylan Mulvaney
Image Source: MarketWatch

Then, there was Bud Light. The beer brand sent Mulvaney custom-made cans featuring her face to celebrate her “365 Days of Girlhood” journey. The influencer shared the cans on Instagram with the hashtag #budlightpartner.

But it didn’t stop there – Mulvaney was also seen in a video drinking Bud Light while chilling in a bathtub.

Now, don’t get me wrong, inclusivity is good. But the product in question here is beer – a highly male-skewed drink. You don’t get a transgender female frolicking in a bathtub to promote what is essentially a male-dominated product. That’s marketing 101, blown to smithereens.

It’s like they’re trying to fix a leaky faucet with duct tape – it just doesn’t work. For brands, perceptions matter – perceptions are the fuel that powers them.

If the individuals you choose to represent your products do not portray your target demographic, things can go downhill pretty fast. Right now, both Nike and Bud Light have a PR disaster on their hands.

3. The Backlash and The Response

The negative response to Dylan Mulvaney’s partnerships with Nike and Bud Light highlights the potential backlash brands can face when promoting diversity and inclusivity.

As companies attempt to navigate these sensitive issues, they must be prepared to address potential criticism and backlash.

You’d think that the senior execs at Nike and Bud Light would have something to say about this whole fiasco, but they’ve been eerily silent, just waiting for the storm to pass. Not sure if that’s the best game plan, honestly.

Bud Light ad - Dylan Mulvaney's Partnerships
Bud Light Ad with Dylan Mulvaney (Image source: Adage)

And as for Bud Light, things took a nosedive when their VP of Marketing, Alissa Heinerscheid, went viral for her interview where she referred to the existing brand audience as “fratty boys.”

Damn! Talk about a slap in the face for the loyal customers who’ve been supporting the brand all these years.

I think Bud Light would find this damage hard to repair. When I last checked, the brand’s parent company Anheuser Busch had lost $6 billion in market cap in less than a week.

4. Evaluate the Long-term Impact of Your Marketing Maneuvers

Brands often pull off wild stunts to stand out from the competition. Sometimes they cast their nets wide, hoping to reel in new audiences.

However, as Jack Trout and Al Ries once wrote, a brand that tries to appeal to everyone usually ends up appealing to no one. So, what on earth were Bud Light and Nike thinking?

The alliance with Dylan Mulvaney has certainly stirred the pot for both Nike and Bud Light. But as they say, the future is uncertain.

Perhaps, as society grows more open to diverse identities, such partnerships will be recognized as a step in the right direction. However, for the time being, brands must carefully contemplate the potential long-term consequences of their marketing maneuvers and adjust their tactics accordingly.

Final Word

While it’s admirable for brands to prioritize inclusivity, they need to balance it with the risk of alienating their core audience.

Authenticity matters, and consumers can see through tokenism and half-hearted attempts at diversity.

Bud Light’s push for a diverse market may have cost them credibility and loyalty, while Nike’s trans-female influencer partnership drew mixed reactions.

 So, is embracing inclusivity a good strategy or a risky move?  

Bud Light and Nike’s fiasco tells us that embracing inclusivity isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It all depends on the brand and its audience. What works for one may not work for the other.

One thing though remains clear: brands must approach inclusivity with caution and sensitivity, or risk shooting themselves in the foot.

It’s a balancing act between appealing to diversity and staying true to your core audience.

©BookJelly. All rights reserved

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