June 9, 2023

Bud Light is “Up For Whatever”, Including a Communication Crisis

By Nici Bentivegna

As public relations practitioners, we strive to be creative, groundbreaking and innovative to get our clients name into the public. However, creativity can sometimes miss the mark, which leaves businesses and organizations vulnerable to crisis. Bud Light understands this all too well.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 9.02.00 AMThis week, a Reddit user posted a photo of a Bud Light bottle that featured a slogan from the Up For Whatever campaign. The label promoted the drink as the perfect beer to temporarily remove the word “no” from the drinkers vocabulary for the night. Cue the backlash.

With everything being online nowadays, bad news travels fast. While Anheuser-Busch, parent company of Bud Light, used proper crisis communication protocol by responding within several hours of the Reddit post, their “apology” seemed to lack, well, the apology.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 9.13.38 AMWhile this response is better than none, Anheuser-Busch and Alexander Lambrecht should have made a better effort to apologize to the public and it’s stakeholders. Bud Light is the official beer of the NFL, which has been under fire recently for several different rape cases, most recently of five time Pro Bowl player Darren Sharper. The NFL is one of Bud Light’s largest stakeholders, and both organizations are putting forth a message that they condone this type of behavior. The message that Bud Light removes “no” from your vocabulary definitely strikes a chord with those who are fighting to put an end to nonconsensual sex. Lambrecht’s statement that Bud Light “would never condone… irresponsible behavior” falls flat; the company faced other issues with another Up For Whatever message in March, when a St. Patrick’s tweet inadvertently promoted nonconsensual touching.

According to Shellie Karabell, a contributor to Forbes, crisis communications teams should craft their messages “on four pillars: honesty, transparency, consistency and accountability.”

Here are some of my thoughts on how Bud Light can apply Karabell’s four pillars of crisis communications to their message:

Honesty: No lies, no half-truths. Show the public and your stakeholders that you have integrity. Saying that you wanted to engage with consumers in a “positive and light-hearted way” is not an excuse. The public deserves to know who on the marketing team thought this message was acceptable.
Transparency: Being transparent is not a choice, it is a responsibility. Right now, the perceived message is that Bud Light encourages irresponsible drinking and behavior. They need to align their message with their values of “promoting the responsible consumption of [their] products”, and their vision of “adding to life’s enjoyment.” The company needs to be more transparent within their messages, and ensure that they do not “miss the mark” again.
Accountability: Take responsibility for your actions. Do not finger-point, do not try to place the blame elsewhere. Bud Light needs to take more responsibility for the slogan, even if the message was not intended to promote irresponsibility. Anheuser-Busch should hold itself accountable, and partner with an organization such as the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence to increase awareness of the issue nationwide.
Consistency: If you say you are going to do something, back up your words with your actions. Bud Light has struggled to remain consistent with positive messaging, as this is the second time this year there has been public backlash about their “Up For Whatever” slogans. Bud Light should consider changing the tone of the campaign to consistently put forth positive messages that promote safe drinking and partying.

What are your thoughts? Are you still Up For Whatever?


6 thoughts on “Bud Light is “Up For Whatever”, Including a Communication Crisis

  1. Nici,
    I completely agree with your thoughts on how Bud Light can apply the four pillars of crisis communications. The initial response by Alexander Lambrecht is definitely lacking in the apology department. His response appears as more of a “not our fault you interpreted the message this way” instead of a bold apology regardless of how the company meant for the message to be interpreted. I think this is where many companies get in trouble is the step of the simple apology. They do not want to apologize because that would mean their actions were wrong and that is a hard thing for companies and even individuals to admit. However, the avoidance of taking responsibility for their actions is what creates animosity and distaste towards their company and fuels a further crisis rather than just ending it with acknowledging the fault.

  2. Nici,

    I too was a little disappointed with Bud Light’s response to the criticism on their Up for Whatever campaign. It is shocking that the tagline about removing “no” from your vocabulary could even get through the strategic phase. However, the vice president’s response to the incident was even more responding. Instead of listening to the concerns of the consumer and seeing how this tagline could be seen as extremely problematic he took a defensive stance, which is never good. Although I think Bud Light made the right choice in having their vice president respond to the incident, I think that they could have been a lot more open and honest with their audience and own up to their mistakes.

    On the other hand I really enjoyed the Super Bowl ad, and think it is a good example of how messaging for the Up for Whatever campaign SHOULD be. It’s time for Bud Light to learn from their mistakes and own up it before they move on with this campaign.

    -Katie McGuigan

  3. I think you have excellent points and suggestions for Bud Lights’ “Up for Whatever” campaign. The fact that the campaign was in its second year is shocking, because this kind of message that suggests drinking the beer will erase the word “no” for the night is demeaning and inappropriate, given the number of sexual assault that occur every year. I also agree that Bud Light didn’t handle its response as wholeheartedly as it could have. Showing more empathy for those negatively impacted or implicated by the campaign’s message would have made the apology more sincere.

    I think that the Super Bowl commercial frames the “Up for Whatever” campaign much better when it doesn’t reference eliminating the word “no” for the night, but rather just being the perfect beer for whatever happens. The reframing of the campaign’s message has zero sexual implications, just the light-hearted feel Bud Light was originally going for.

    Great blog post!

  4. Nici,
    I completely agree with you. Bud Light definitely missed the mark on not only this campaign but on the crisis communication tactics as well. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that this campaign is in its second year. The response by Bud Light was embarrassingly insincere. It comes off that Bud Light doesn’t really care about the impact their branding could have on a person. Although they made the right choice to speak out about the issue, they didn’t go the extra step by trying to make sure their publics knew they were sorry.

    I have to say his response turned me off from the brand and makes me feel like they genuinely do not care about their actions. I am NOT “Up for Whatever.”
    Great insights on this blog post!

  5. Nici,

    I think the “Up For Whatever” campaign is great. They depict fun nights with different activities, in a safe environment, but boy did Bud Light mess up with this slogan. The PR team should have been more in tune with what’s going on in the world and what a slogan like that can mean to someone. Obviously, empathy is number one in regards to apologies and Bud Light evaded to show it.


  6. I definitely agree with your statements here. They should have engaged more and maybe not have launched this campaign in the first place. They say they don’t condone irresponsible behavior, but the phrase “Up for whatever” is inherently irresponsible. I can’t imagine how any of them would think this was a smart idea—especially because they’re an alcohol brand. I’m sure this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the backlash and criticisms they received about the campaign.

Comments are closed.