Gov. Ron DeSantis has asked Florida’s State Board of Administration to investigate AB InBev, Bud Light’s parent company, regarding loss sales that could affect Florida’s state investments with the company. This is ironic, since Gov. DeSantis was a supporter of the boycott that impacted Bud Light’s sales. Moreover, it would be easier and cheaper for Florida to sell off its investment into AB InBev rather than launch a frivolous investigation and potential lawsuit into the company.
The 2023 Bud Light Boycott
In March 2023, Bud Light partnered with Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender Youtuber, to create a commercial that played during NCAA’s March Madness. Mulvaney had about 10 million subscribers to her YouTube channel. The commercial featured a Bud Light can with Mulvane’s face on it. The commercial played across the internet and television on April 1, 2023. In response, certain country music singers like Kid Rock called for a boycott of Bud Light. Kid Rock filmed himself shooting Bud Light cans with a gun, which many other conservatives began emulating. Several Bud Light factories reported receiving bomb threats. Gov. DeSantis expressed support for the boycott in mid-April 2023.
Mulvaney herself claims she was subject to harassment and online threats following the calls for a boycott. Anheuser-Busch gave a statement on the boycott stating they wished to promote unity and protecting history and heritage. Mulvaney’s supporters also boycotted Bud Light in response due to the company’s lack of support for Mulvaney.
DeSantis claims that Florida’s state workers, such as officers, teachers, and firefighters, would want growing returns on their pension rather than “subsidizing an ideological agenda.” Florida’s stockholdings with AB InBev are estimated to be about .03% of Florida’s pensions. Florida is far from the majority shareholder of AB InBev.
Bud Light is estimated to have lost about 12% of its sales this quarter, though it is uncertain whether that drop is due to the boycotts or other factors.
A Company’s Profits Is Not a Legitimate Government Concern
Republicans have increasingly threatened to use the power of the state to attack corporations for not towing the Republican agenda. DeSantis has made headlines by attempting to seize control of Disney World by giving himself the power to appoint their governing board after the theme park and media corporation put out a statement expressing disapproval of one of Florida’s new laws. In June 2023, a group of state Republican Attorneys General sent a letter to Target Inc. about loss sales because of LGBTQ and/or “satanic” clothing.
DeSantis’ proposed investigation and lawsuits would ultimately be frivolous. Only shareholders would have standing to bring a lawsuit if they are displeased that the corporation is losing money. Even though Florida is a shareholder, most courts would not consider loss profits a valid lawsuit.
Courts typically defer to business executives under the business judgment rule as to how to run their corporations. Indeed, many corporations will invest in and take short-term losses in hopes of obtaining greater profit later on. Some companies, like Uber, have consistently operated on million dollar losses for decades as they pursue new technology to give themselves a potential long-term advantage.
Bud Light made a reasonable business decision to expand their consumer base. Bud Light had no reason to anticipate that conservatives would overact in the manner they have. Several businesses in the last decade have put out pro-LGBTQ marketing with no issues. Bud Light’s Vice President of Marketing stated in March 2023 that the Bud Light band was in decline and they needed to attract younger consumers to remain competitive in the future. Given that younger generations are generally more supportive of LGBTQ groups, the commercial was a good idea to capture those groups (even if the commercial itself was poorly made).
Alternatives to Outrage
Conservatives also could have conducted themselves in a positive manner. Rather than filming himself shooting Bud Light cans, Kid Rock could have asked Bud Light to run a commercial with his own face on a beer can. Moreover, a state governor, or American President for that matter, has no authority to dictate how a corporation can run its marketing campaign. If DeSantis believes that Bud Light is no longer a good investment, his state can simply selloff its .03% share.
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