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Anheuser-Busch Changes Beer Marketing Focus After Transgender Promotion

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The beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev on Thursday said that it would focus its marketing campaigns around sports and music and assign senior executives to oversee them, in the wake of controversy over a Bud Light promotion featuring a transgender influencer.

Anheuser-Busch reported a 13.6 percent increase in first quarter earnings before interest, taxes and other expenses, to $4.7 billion; and a 13.2 percent jump in global revenues to $14.2 billion from a year earlier, mostly because of higher pricing and despite a decline in beer volume in many markets, including North America.

In a call with analysts to discuss the financial results, Anheuser-Busch executives were peppered with questions about the backlash. They repeatedly noted that the promotion was limited to one influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, and one social media post, and that beer cans displaying her image had not been produced for mass distribution.

The company said that senior executives would oversee all marketing campaigns before they are rolled out, and that it would largely focus its advertising and marketing around sports and music. The company noted it was a sponsor of the recent NFL draft and the Stagecoach music festival in California last week.

“Everything we do should be about beer and promoting beer,” Michel Doukeris, Anheuser-Busch’s chief executive, told analysts.

“Beer will always be at the table when a debate is happening, but the beer itself should not be the focus of the debate,” he added.

Bud Light has been the subject of a firestorm since mid-March when Ms. Mulvaney posted a video on her Instagram account to promote a Bud Light March Madness contest to her 1.8 million followers. In her post, which was less than a minute long, she said that the company had sent a tallboy can of Bud Light featuring her photo. An image of the can was edited into the video.

The social media post elicited a significant response as conservative celebrities and politicians called for a boycott of the brand. Soon, calls came for a reverse boycott, or buycott, encouraging people to buy Bud Light to show support for the marketing.

Sales of Bud Light slumped in early April, raising concern among investors that the post would both damage Bud Light’s position in the marketplace and that of other Anheuser-Busch brands. Bud Light sales fell 17 percent in the week ending April 15, according to Beer Business Daily.

Executives downplayed the decline, noting that it represented about 1 percent of total global volume and it was too early to determine if it would continue.

Anheuser-Busch shares rose nearly 3 percent after the call, to $65.56, and are up 10 percent for the year. Its stock sank to lows of around $63 in April when data began to show the drop in sales.

In late April, the company said that it had placed two executives involved in the promotion on leave: Alissa Heinerscheid, the vice president of marketing for Bud Light, and Daniel Blake, who oversees marketing for Anheuser-Busch’s mainstream brands.

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