It didn’t take long for the Anheuser-Busch marketing team to ignite another fire storm on social media. The Belgian-owned corporation released a series of Bud Light labels that urged consumers to be “Up For Whatever.” According to a recent news release, 140 different scroll sayings were printed on Bud Light bottles. One of the labels goes too far in the opinion of many, encouraging drinkers to remove the word “no” from their vocabulary, and draws into focus the ethics of marketing.
The full text from the label in question reads, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”
It seems that Anheuser-Busch executives thought the slogan was perfectly inline with their “have fun” marketing campaign, but they failed to think through all of the possible interpretations, the most obvious of which relates to using alcohol as a date rape drug. “This beer is perfect for removing “no” from other people’s vocabulary, too. Give him or her a few more bottles of this and they won’t be able to say no to you!” The hashtag #NoMeansNo sprang up, alongside AB-Inbev’s own #UpForWhatever, as Tweeters took issue with it, claiming the slogan contributes to latent rape culture.
Drinking and driving is another topic where saying “no” should be seen as a good thing. “Are you safe to drive?” If you’re encouraged to remove “no” from your vocabulary, how will you answer this question?
Anheuser-Busch swiftly apologized Tuesday afternoon as images of the label spread online. In a statement the company said in part, “We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.”
On Tuesday, tons of commentators on Facebook and Twitter suggested that those who took issue with the slogan just needed to chill out and relax. They said this slogan was just meant to be playful and to encourage people to have a good time. Sure, sometimes we can all be a little over-sensitive to marketing and push arguments to their logical extremes.
But that’s not the real issue here. This advertising campaign touches on some very real wounds in our society. Marketing has a subtle way of informing our opinions and values. Marketing slogans and messages trickle down into the collective social consciousness and can shore up existing prejudices or justify cultural practices. To have a corporation pump out a campaign that is focused on just “having fun” and “doing whatever you feel like” is a dangerous thing when said corporation manufactures an intoxicating product. I’d liken it to a cigarette manufacturer launching a campaign telling smokers not to worry about possibly developing lung cancer sometime in the future and just live in the moment. Seems a bit disingenuous, no?
There are some laws governing what companies can and cannot do in advertising and some marketing firms adhere to stricter self-imposed ethical codes — these efforts should be lauded. But when a company markets in a way that adds fuel to the burning fire of a social issue such as rape or drunken driving, it is necessary for the public to push back and say “Hey, that’s a step too far.” Not long ago we allowed cigarette manufacturers to directly market to children with fun, flavored tobacco treats. Once we collectively insisted that this sort of marketing was harmful to our society, laws were put into place to prevent it from occurring in the future.
AB-Inbev is not the only culprit when it comes to this type of problematic marketing. Nor is this an issue that is isolated to the beverage industry. But I do think it’s high time for the beverage industry to look more seriously at how its advertising strategies might be fueling social injustices and causes blatant harm by contributing to rape culture, racism, drunk driving and other serious social issues. Everybody wants to have a good time, but a no-consequences approach is socially irresponsible. Leaders in the beverage industry should proactively seek ways to add value to the society they serve, rather than use their position to reinforce harmful practices.