Case Study from Bud Light on Sex in Advertising – Strategy with RS

Bud Light is a ‘mass’ beer brand. If you were the Marketing head of the brand what strategy would you come up with to make each bottle unique? Yes each bottle unique without modifying the blend.

Bud Light’s team came with ‘Up For Whatever’ campaign. It sought to engage with its customers in a light hearted & fun manner by putting entertaining message on every bottle. For this It crafted over 140 different fun messages. For example, one message read – ‘Perfect beer for singing loud even if you don’t know the words.’

As a part of this campaign a set of bottles bearing sexual innuendo reached the market – ‘ The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.’ Backlash came in fast & furious. It was felt that this message encouraged alcoholic fuelled rape culture. And customers started associating words like, ‘reckless’, ‘insensitive’ ’disrespectful’, ‘irresponsible’ with Bud Light.

Of course, Anheuser-Bush, the brand owner quickly tweeted out an apology: “We missed the mark on a new Bud Light bottle, and we regret it.’

But the question that we need to answer – does sex in advertising help sell the product? The answer is an explicit ‘no’. Sex in advertising is cursed with the ‘Vampire Effect’ – sex is like a vampire … it is capable of selling only itself … people remember ‘sex’ & normally forget the brand associated with it.

But you will counter argue saying that it manages to create buzz. But what kind of buzz? Negative buzz!

I believe that brands which survive over time consider a few traits sacrosanct – trust, reputation & relationship with their customers. Any strategy which seeks to weaken them is shunned.

Take Bud Light. As a result of this misadventure the brand started getting associated with traits like,‘reckless’, ‘insensitive’ ’disrespectful’, ‘irresponsible’ . These traits weaken the bond of trust between the customer & the brand & cause irreparable damage to the reputation of the brand.

Moreover will you wish to have a relationship with a brand which is associated with these terms of endearment? Many customers may not. Because when you buy a brand it ‘talks’ about you to your friends – what you stand for. And many customers may not want to looked upon as being ‘reckless’, ‘insensitive’, ’disrespectful’ & ‘irresponsible’.

Business learning for us: Shun sexual innuendo in advertising. Sex does not sell anything except itself. It does manage to generate negative buzz which could harm your brand in the long run.

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In this series, Rajesh Srivastava, Business Strategist and Visiting Faculty at IIM Indore gives you a regular dose of strategy case studies to help you think and keep you one step ahead as a professional as compared to your peers. Rajesh is an alumnus of IIM Bangalore and IIT Kanpur and has over 2 decades of experience in the FMCG industry. All previous Strategy with RS posts can be found here

Comments

6 comments

Rajesh Srivastava

Deepika message has to be in context of the category. And even in Durex advertisement does not promote reckless & indiscreet behaviour.

iop

This article is quite correct when it comes to direct allusion to sex in products, but I think we have seen this far too often on ads of alcohol, casinos, etc… Adverts containing ‘beautiful’ scantily clad women surrounding either one man or a group of men. So this kind of advertising does wonders for the products, its really a shame our society is hypocritical!

dmaverick

Sir – With all due respect, I do not quite agree with you. Sexual innuendo is extremely powerful – take the success of Wild Stone deo as an example..Deos always have used attractive women in their ads but Wild Stone’s implicit concept of ‘ A Hot Housewife’ was extremely liked by men and positively impacted sales.
On a moral and ethical front, the issue is altogether different – but purely viewing it from the lens of branding, I think I have made my point. Looking forward to great articles from you.

Rajesh Srivastava

Dheer the messaging of Bud Light is encouraging people to momentarily throw caution to the wind – a moment of indiscretion can cause lifetime of pain. Brands which wish to endure in the long run should shun these tactics. Also using sex to advertise your advertising is unlikely to work in the long run. Take Axe deo. Its tag line – The Axe Effect – promising the users to score in the mating game. Even Axe had to change its advertising theme towards ‘3x perfume which does not fade’.

Rajesh Srivastava

Ramesh Singh, yes some industry allude to it that it as life style advertisement. And if a brand takes an easy way out of just ‘showing women’ without relevance to the product being advertised will invariable comes to grief. Such advertisement does not build loyalty with the brand so when ‘genuine’ competition come along they see exodus of customers.