When Corporations Act Like Politicians
As the 2024 presidential primary begins to take shape, pundits of all descriptions treat their readers to theories of whether this or that candidate can hold onto the partisan base or persuade independents. Strangely, many corporations — all Democrats, apparently — are behaving in the same, partisan way. Their unbusinesslike behavior is hurting their bottom line.
The gravest recent example is Anheuser-Busch, manufacturer of Bud Light, who sponsored an Instagram post by Dylan Mulvaney, a man who pretends to be a girl, during March Madness. Even though senior management apparently never signed off on the decision, the backlash was furious, rapid, and sustained. Bud Light sales fell 21.4% in April and continue to drop, sinking 28.4% lower in the boycott’s sixth week, according to Beer Business Daily, which noted, “nobody imagined it would go on this long. … It struck a nerve.” This, despite Anheuser-Busch’s attempts to re-entice former customers, including a patriotic ad campaign, camo-print bottles, and a statement from the CEO admitting that they “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.”
Now, Bud Light is basically giving beer away and buying back expired beer from wholesalers in efforts to boost sales. Shares in the company have plummeted nearly 15% since the end of March, a loss of nearly $20 billion (with a “B”) in market value. Oh, and left-wing pundits are attacking Anheuser Busch for its weak attempt at an apology, which NBC News’s Ben Collins characterized as, “Bud Light caves to a mob.” Bud Light was last seen sponsoring Pride parades for the upcoming Pride Month, with all of the revenue they aren’t making.
In the last week of May, retail giant Target joined the fun, rolling out a 2023 “PRIDE” collection that featured Satanic symbolism and trans-specific items like a “tuck-friendly” swimsuit, prompting some conservatives to call for a boycott. Target responded by relocating the unsightly Pride displays from the front of some stores and removing some offensive items from its website, but CEO Brian Cornell doubled down on the decision, claiming that partnering with a Satanist to design pro-trans merchandise was “just good business decisions” and “a great thing for our brand.”
It’s too early to tell if Target’s sales numbers have been affected, but its stock has crashed more than 13% since last Wednesday, a loss of more than $10 billion in market value (for perspective, Target saw a “full-year operating income of $3.8 billion in 2022”). Leftists rewarded Target for its transgressive Pride display and non-apology by slamming it. California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) complained that Cornell was “selling out the LGBTQ+ community,” while National Black Justice Coalition executive director David Johns said Target’s allyship with the LGBTQ community was merely “superficial.” For their part, Target rebounded from the Pride boycott with an email to their employees to “remember the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.”
The corporate flip-flop is not only for manufacturers and retailers. The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team planned to award an anti-Catholic group of “queer and trans nuns” — whose D.C.-based chapter was formerly led by former Biden nuclear official Sam Brinton — with their annual “Community Hero Award” at their Pride Night on June 16. Not surprisingly, this provoked Catholics to call for a boycott of the Dodgers. The Dodgers rescinded the group’s invitation, acknowledging their controversial nature. But when they did so, LA Pride, which produces the city’s Pride parade, also dropped out, “forcing” the Dodgers to “offer our sincerest apologies” and reinvite the drag troupe.
You might have noticed a pattern developing here: Company X tries to promote the LGBT agenda without generating any controversy — and generates controversy. First, conservatives get mad at the promotion, leading the company to publish a half-hearted apology or half-step back. Next, progressives get made at the company’s supposed capitulation to conservatives. The company winds up angering both sides. Its effort to boost its image winds up backfiring. From this pattern, other companies should learn to ask: if we proceed with this marketing campaign, what’s the end result? Will there be backlash among our customers?
You also might have noticed that the products for sale — baseball, home furnishings, beer — appeal to broad, diverse customer bases. Everyone needs a rug or lamp or articles to fill their domicile. A large swath of American society drinks beer aplenty. And baseball is an American classic. This makes the promotion of trans ideology — a polarizing and un-inclusive issue — wholly unfitting for these brands. Not only does the ideology alienate religious Americans, but it is so unnatural — to a degree surpassing same-sex marriage — that it even alienates people who haven’t thought deeply about it, but who instinctively abhor transgenderism nonetheless.
The point of marketing campaigns is to make your product appealing to your customer base. If that customer base is broad, the marketing campaign should have broad appeal: lovable characters (Geico), memorable slogans (Capitol One), catchy jingles (Liberty Mutual), enticing visuals (anyone selling a burger). Statistically speaking, the percentage of the population who identify as transgender is tiny, even smaller than the percentage that might be turned off by overt appeals to them. Even if they sell such products, Nike doesn’t advertise shoes over size 20, Allstate doesn’t advertise insurance rates for Lamborghinis, and Chick-fil-A doesn’t advertise the vegan options on their menu. Such niche promotion is not worthwhile — unless the product being marketed is also niche.
Furthermore, these products — baseball, home furnishings, beer — are inherently nonpartisan and are in no way enhanced by association with the Pride agenda. A father-son outing to the ballpark is in no way improved by drag performers competing to disgust Catholics. Men drinking at a bar actually prefer that their beverage of choice not be marketed by a TikTok influencer caricaturing an underage girl. A store’s embrace of transgender ideology adds nothing to the take-home value of a shower curtain or candle or desk lamp purchased there. Even the sliver of the population to whom they’re trying to appeal are already as likely to purchase these ubiquitous products and brands as anyone else.
Way back in the 1990s, basketball great-turned-entrepreneur Michael Jordan resisted pressure to endorse Democrat Harvey Gantt in his challenge to Republican Senator Jesse Helms. “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” he reasoned. More corporations today would be wise to heed his advice.
Somewhere along the way, America’s major corporations have stopped behaving like businesses and started behaving like politicians. A politician succeeds by winning votes — which increasingly involves performative virtue-signaling in our culture obsessed with performative identity. A business succeeds by producing the best product and selling it for the lowest price. But investing in pride campaigns is a dubious method for improving a product, and by raising costs it actually increases the price.
Corporations are busy trying to win votes by performative virtue-signaling, but it turns out that is a horrible way to deliver the best product for the lowest price.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.