Evidence mounts that the problems at Bud Light and its parent go far beyond Alissa Heinerscheid

If I were still teaching at Harvard Business School, I’d already be putting together material for a case study on the Bud Light marketing disaster, and I am reasonably sure that I would have plenty of company at HBS and elsewhere. The fiasco is already of historic proportions, joining New Coke as an example of failing to understand the customers of a brand.

But, as with any good case study, there are layers and layers of analysis possible, and the initial hypotheses of who and what went wrong may yield to alternative views once more information is considered.

With its choice of Alissa Heinerscheid to be VP of marketing for Bud, AB InBev made waves in the industry by entrusting its top-selling brand to the marketing skills of a woman. The company, it turns out, is the exact opposite of a stodgy, tradition-bound merchandiser of a product so venerable that the ancient Egyptians consumed it.  Just last month, the company became the first in history to win the title “Creative Marketer of the Year” two years in a row at the world’s biggest ad festival, The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (formerly the International Advertising Festival) Marketer of the Year

16 March 2023

The world’s largest brewer is awarded for a second consecutive year, the only brand to achieve this in the history of the Festival.

Cannes Lions has announced that it will honour Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) as Creative Marketer of the Year for a second year in a row. The award recognises AB InBev’s sustained creative excellence that has driven sustainable business growth – as well as their body of Lion-winning work amassed over a sustained period of time, and reputation for producing brave creative and innovative marketing solutions.

AB InBev is the first brand in the Festival’s history to be honoured with the award for two consecutive years after embedding creativity at the heart of their business. (snip)

 In 2018, AB InBev embarked on a journey to develop a creative excellence programme and set a five year strategic goal to improve their creative marketing capabilities and drive organic revenue for the business. 

This programme saw them introduce an embedded, sustainable system and culture that put creative problem solving at the centre of their business – leading to organic growth and improved creative and financial performance. (snip)

[Lions CEO Simon]Cook added, “AB InBev’s commitment to creativity and the role it plays in business value creation is further supported by the clear buy-in from the company board, including CEO Michel Doukeris, which has been critical to their success. They’ve also scaled, using the best practice established in the US as a blueprint for their approach across other markets. All of this has delivered incredible business results, and the fact that they now use the number and breadth of Lion wins as a core measure of success shows just how powerful creativity is in driving progress.

So, when Ms. Heinerscheid made her now-infamous video scoffing at the “fratty” tendencies of existing Bud Light drinkers, she could well have understood that her mandate was to get creative about finding new ways to reach other consumer segments for a brand that all acknowledged was in long term decline.

 After all, the CEO and company board were all-in, so what could go wrong?



There is no evidence that anyone in the company found anything she said there objectionable.  Just over a week before the company half-heartedly “apologized” (sort of) for the Mulvaney tangent, The man who just replaced Heinerscheid was on CNBC kvelling over a remarkable award that must have pleased top management.



A statement from the company in Beer Business Daily is a clear sign that the company recognizes it has problems that are organizational in nature:

Management Changes: Todd Allen Appointed VP Bud Light Former Bud Light marketing VP Alissa Heinerscheid, who was at that post for not quite a year, is off the brand. We understand she has decided to take a leave of absence.

“Today, we communicated some next steps with our internal teams and wholesaler partners,” per A-B spokesperson. “First, we made it clear that the safety and welfare of our employees and our partners is our top priority. Second, Todd Allen is appointed Vice President of Bud Light reporting directly to Benoit Garbe, U.S. Chief Marketing Officer. Third, we have made some adjustments to streamline the structure of our marketing function to reduce layers so that our most senior marketers are more closely connected to every aspect of our brands activities. These steps will help us maintain focus on the things we do best: brewing great beer for all consumers, while always making a positive impact in our communities and on our country.”  [emphasis added]

Streamlining structure and reducing layers sounds a lot like getting rid of people, perhaps, methinks, the people who hired Mulvaney and the other “influencers” the company says it has “hundreds” of.  Closely connecting senior marketers to “every aspect our brands [sic] activities” sounds a lot like a rebuke to former VP Heinerscheid for letting a subordinate hire Mulvaney without considering the negative reaction from the fratty customer base, as I speculated had been the case in a blog I wrote yesterday.

In fact, hiring online “influencers” may be part of the vaunted “creativity” that has garnered the company such global respect. After all, online influencers probably are cheaper than celebrity endorsers for athletic shoes,and reach demographic slices that don’t watch TV sports as much as the traditional Bud Light consumers, who are declining in number every year.

Alissa Heinerscheid is not the disease, she’s a symptom. If she hadn’t made the condescending video presentation, she might have survived the imbroglio, but thanks to it, she is now forever the face of the disaster, and is seen as an antagonist by her former brand’s formerly loyal consumers.  A-B InBev was besotted with its highly successful (until a couple of weeks ago) creative marketing efforts.  She delegated (as capable managers do) some of her responsibilities to subordinates. Neither she nor her staff, however, had an inkling of the way their best customers would respond to a transsexual embodying the brand as an “influencer.”

The beer business is tough, with worldwide consumption stagnant to declining, and trends favoring microbreweries over global brands. Creative marketing as a counterforce is an understandable response. After all, in a declining market something new needs to be done if there is to be growth.  

But the fundamentals of marketing, especially the imperative to know thy customer must never be forgotten.

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