Beer giant Anheuser-Busch announced today that it has withdrawn its controversial Bud Light can labels that many accused of promoting rape culture.
The offending labels included this marketing message as part of Bud Light’s ongoing #UpForWhatever social media campaign:
Not surprisingly, the message drew heavy criticism on social media for promoting the idea that alcohol can change the meaning of “no”. As social media becomes an increasingly important channel for businesses of all sizes, the fear of such gaffes must be managed and navigated rather than resulting in the “no go” policy many companies previously employed.
Bud Light’s recent fumble is an opportunity for marketers to consider a few best practices that can avoid such costly mistakes.
1. Test Your Edginess
Being edgy and fun is a big part of what makes a social media campaign successful. There’s an art to finding the appropriate edge, and even seasoned marketers can overshoot at times. If Bud Light had simply taken this message to the street – getting an off the cuff response from 10-20 random people – it seems highly probable that one or more would find the message troubling and inappropriate. When running your quick poll, be careful to ask people of all types and not just your target personas. Social media messages are public and reaction is not limited to your target personas. This type of quick test is definitely worth a walk outside during your lunch hour with pad and pen before going live with that new edgy campaign.
2. Steer Clear of Untouchable Topics
Edginess aside, some topics are simply untouchable and should be avoided on principal. This list changes over time, of course, and may even be highly localized. Gather your content marketing staff for an hour and agree on a high level list of “no go” topics. Digital Sherpa and Tech Brand Marketing provide lists you can use as a starting point. Surprisingly, neither of these include topics that might be interpreted as advocating or condoning violence. It’s worth your team’s time to establish your “no go” list, distribute it to your content creators and update it annually.
3. Apologize for a Gaffe Quickly and Clearly
Even with the best of intentions, you may find yourself in the hot seat, getting retweeted thousands of times for very wrong reasons. Even if you subscribe to the theory that any publicity is good publicity, you may find that having thousands of people think of your company condones rape doesn’t sell beer. Bud Light did apologize.
Even so, such a tweet doesn’t go far enough for many when crossing a line like this. Bud Light may end the #UpForWhatever campaign altogether, its value is tainted. A contribution to a cause or taking specific action to prevent campus rape would have been more than lip service. The take away is that Bud Light took action and got out from under this quickly, if not as completely as some preferred.