Are you ready for some uncomfortable truth? One might even say an “inconvenient truth” but please understand I am not talking about ice caps or polar bears. I’m talking about Bud Light and Disney both seemingly determined to test the latest moniker of “Go woke, go broke”. Both companies bought into agendas inconsistent with their long-standing brands and as a result they are both currently on fire.
Bud Light jumped onto the woke train as it was literally running off the track. Worse, they did it without considering their base is largely the demographic most annoyed by this overly PC world. Disney jumped into politics and misrepresented a family bill. Then when they realized they were in quicksand instead of holding still, they just kept moving. Two iconic American brands remind us all that capitalism is ultimately the judge and Lady Liberty does not give much slack.
The world is complicated enough, beer shouldn’t be. The numbers would indicate that is the sentiment of Bud Light customers. Disney similarly is a brand built on families. When Disney jumped into the “don’t say gay” fight they opened the door for a fight with parents. Nothing moves Florida like angry parents. Tagging into this parental rights bill was a brawl in retrospect most would imagine they wish they would have stayed out of. Do you remember when the NFL tripped and fell on the whole national anthem debate – standing or taking a knee? These two brands are reliving another iteration of the same old story.
The issues at hand
Here is the deal with Disney and the state of Florida without getting into all the nitty gritty details and killing the vibe. During the Florida legislative session in Tallahassee, Disney decided to get political on the “Parental Rights in Education Act“, a lightning rod of a bill that garnered national attention. As a result, they lost a sweetheart deal with the state of Florida regarding its own favorable tax district. To put it into perspective, imagine someone lives in your house for free. Then, they start to call you out in public on how you manage your home. Not only that, they insinuate your house is bigoted. In a situation where most people might lay low, and continue taking the good deal, Disney decided to go hard in the opposite direction.
Disney who has traditionally stayed out of politics, decided to jump into a lion’s den of angry parents. The words “don’t say gay” are not even in the bill. The bill Disney went to war over prevents teachers from discussing topics not appropriate for children four to eight years of age. Those topics include discussions on people trapped in the wrong body at birth, corrective sexual reassignment surgery and people changing their assigned sex. With underage children, these topics are inappropriate. Once people realized what the bill actually did, it became the final nail in the coffin for many who were on the fence in this battle. Their anger can be reflected in the fact Disney’s stock price fell 44% in 2022.
The issue is not about a beer can with a transgender person on it or a piece of legislation; the real rub with the customers and these companies is bigger than these singular issues. It is a societal issue. It is a human nature issue. If people feel like they are being force fed, their human nature is to push back. That same spirit led America to a revolution, and it is bred into many of us at birth. Those who left either brand may not feel comfortable enough voicing their opinion in opposition of the agenda out loud for fear of the potential repercussions. But they have surely shown their feelings on the issue by flexing their dollars.
The consequences of their actions
The real issue these brands fail to see is Americans are sick of playing pretend. They are sick of being force fed propaganda, from companies that demand compliance and tell them they need to play pretend. Congressional hearings shake our confidence in the media, with social media platforms and with even the FBI and DOJ.
Disney and Bud Light are two brands that have been building rapport and carving out their places in the market and our homes for generations. They have been with us so long, it is as if they are a safe place in this chaotic world. The recent changes have made them go from feeling like a trusted neighbor to someone you need to watch your drink around. Bud Light sales are down 26% and Disney is in court while shareholders have seen sales drop 42% compared to this time last year.
We have crowded Red Sox games with lines at every single beer vendor and no one at the Bud Light line going viral on social media. Disney got too comfortable and decided to swan dive into the shallow end of political pool instead of focusing on what they do. These problems are far from pretend.
What happens next?
The names of these companies over the years have grown synonymous with family, fun, adventure and good times. Many of us have toasted Bud Light as we watched the fireworks on Fourth of July. Seeing the fireworks cascade around the castle at Magic Kingdom is a breathtaking scene. Are these nostalgic memories over for good? Can we ever have that magic again? It remains to be seen.
There is a moment in a classic Disney movie that has a lesson these brands could find wisdom in while navigating rough patches. In “The Lion King” Simba spoke to his father in the clouds post death before reclaiming the throne. Simba looked to the ghost of Mufasa and said in shame, “How can I go back now? I’m not who I use to be.”
Then James Earl Jones thundered down a line that still lives in my head rent free in his slow steady award-winning voice: “Simba, remember who you are. You are the one true King.” (eerie pause) “Remember who you are”. Will Disney and Bud Light remember who they are and return to Pride Rock? Or are we about to witness them falling off the cliff into the stampede below?
Edited by: James Sutton