I’ve been fortunate to work on Wall Street for a long time with large and small firms. And no matter which firm I worked for, Usually at this time of year, a memo would be circulated reminding us that we were not to endorse any candidate running in the upcoming Presidential Election. It was back when Companies did not take public positions in any election. We did not want to become involved in any of the “hot-button” issues of the day.
The reason was simple; we didn’t want to lose half our customers. Because no matter which side we chose to endorse, we knew that we would alienate the other half of the country, who were for the other side. Simple economics told us that we could not afford to lose half our income.
It was simple mathematics and the accepted, conventional wisdom of almost all American businesses until recently. Suddenly things have changed, at least for some significant businesses. Certain companies have elected to take positions that they know will repel a large segment of their customers. Yet, they seemingly don’t mind if those social and political positions drive some of their customers away. Two examples of this kind of corporate behavior are Target and Anheuser Busch. But other major corporations such as Nike and Disney have also been caught up in this “Woke” movement and have lost customers as a result.
I’ve seen nothing in American Corporate History that has divided companies from their customers like the Woke Movement. Social reformers, sitting in their executive offices, have elected to endorse new social norms. Norms and values that are antithetical to a majority of Americans.
A recent set of polls by the Trafalgar Group bears out this divide between Woke Corporations and their customers. When asked whether corporations, in general, should become involved in political issues, 62% of Americans said they should not. But in the specific case of Dylan Mulvaney, and Bud Light, the number who disapprove of corporations entering politics climbs to an incredible 82%.
Mulvaney, you may recall, is a transgender person who Bud Light elected as the brand’s spokesperson. It was seen as an endorsement by Bud Light of Mulvaney’s lifestyle, something most felt was outside the purview of the beer maker.
The entire country seems caught up in this argument over whether Mulvaney was an appropriate “image” for the low-cal brew. During June and the celebration of Pride Month, thousands came to the defense of Mulvaney and Bud. While on the other side, millions spoke with their dollars, refusing to purchase the product in one of the most effective boycotts in recent memory. And that is the dimension of this conflict that most miss.
What we have here is a standard consumer product, beer. Promoting that product, producing and selling Bud Light is the primary reason Anheuser-Busch is in business. Everything else is a sideshow. We would not be having this debate if Anheuser-Busch did not exist. Dylan Mulvaney would be an unknown if millions did not buy a Bud Light at the ball game or their local grocery store. What makes this all work, and brings us all together, is a multi-generational, hugely successful company that produces beer—one of the most popular beers in the marketplace.
Or at least it was one of the most popular beers. That may have all changed. People are mad. Mad enough to change their buying habits. Mad enough to send a loud and clear message that they don’t like Woke Corporations.
That’s unusual in this country. We are generally an amiable group, especially when it comes to most consumer goods, especially beer. We stick with our adult beverages through thick and thin. Even a lousy batch is not enough to dissuade us. Brand loyalty runs exceptionally high among beer drinkers, with an average imbiber enjoying the same brew for years.
But not this time. This time Bud Light elected to cross a line. One that their consumers felt strongly about. One Bud most of known that would have cost customers. And yet they did it anyway.
It raises an interesting question: do corporations have a right to commit suicide? After all, that’s what Bud Light was doing, taking an intentionally unpopular position, knowing that it would cost them customers, and yet doing it anyway. It’s a question that those Corporate Executives need to be asked. As shareholders who have lost money, we deserve an answer. For the record, the stock of Anheuser Busch In Bev (stock symbol BUD) lost $27 billion in the immediate aftermath of all this. And even though it has recovered some of that loss, it still trades at less than half of its all-time high of a few years ago.
In all the emotion and shouting about “equal rights” and oppressed minorities, a couple of groups have been left out of the discussion, the stakeholders. Those who invested in Bud and those who work for Bud. The shareholders and the workers. We have yet to talk about them. But both groups have been harmed. The shareholders are losing money, and the workers may lose their jobs.
In contrast, we can debate whether the management at Busch has a responsibility toward the transgender people among us. There can be no debate that Bud Management has a primary responsibility toward the company’s stakeholders, the workers, and shareholders, without whom Bud Light would not exist. And yet those two groups remain forgotten.
I believe there is a genuine possibility that Bud Management may have killed their most popular brand, Bud Light. If that does happen, we’ll all know that it was a suicide, a Woke Suicide.