Published on: April 25, 2023
Yesterday I went on a bit of a rant about the announcement that Alissa Heinerscheid, the Bud Light marketing VP who took a lot of heat for her attempt to broaden the brand's appeal, has taken a leave of absence.
I commented, in part:
I want to get past the debate about whether Bud Light was right or wrong. It is a fair argument that since Bud Light is a brand in decline, the company needed to reach beyond its traditional demographic base. It also is fair to say that maybe they should've calculated possible blowback from reaching out to a demographic so different from its traditional base. And, I think it is fair to say that some of the people who were the most vehement and virulent in their negative responses are transphobic cretins. (Too far? Too soon?)
My response to Heinerscheid's "leave of absence" is that it proves one thing - that the powers that be at Bud Light are gutless invertebrates.
Reality check: Heinerscheid didn't make the decision to widen the customer base on her own. There were meetings. Lots of meetings. The leadership at Bud Light, Anheuser Busch and their outside marketing consultants pondered this ad nauseam, trying to figure out how to reverse the brand's decline.
Debate all you want about the wisdom of the strategic marketing initiative. This was a company decision, and Heinerscheid's "leave of absence" is all about using her as a scapegoat. This is utter B.S., especially after Anheuser Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth posted a letter that was so mush-mouthed and non-specific about the controversy that it was hard to know what he was talking about. (If Heinerscheid was the actual author of that letter, I'm happy to reconsider my opinion.)
I think ineffective leaders who turn their people into fall guys are detestable.
One MNB reader responded:
I am surprised by your atypical harsh reaction to the Bud Light situation, since you know well that in business, a major perceived failure always needs a scapegoat. Sometimes it is public, often it is not and usually it is not fair.
The day the entire 26 man roster of the Angels gets fired, instead of (most recently) manager Joe Maddon, for failures on the field, then maybe things will be different.
Every corporation has its own politics, internal relationships and dynamics. In this case of Anheuser-Busch they felt a high profile sacrificial executive was required to placate investors. We do not know the history between the executives and you cannot blame the uncontrollable consumer variable for a poorly received marketing direction. As always, bosses will never fire themselves.
Looking at Alissa Heinerscheid's education and employment history, it is certain that she is brilliant and talented. She is sure to recover nicely from this controversy and will continue to be much better off than Joe Maddon.
Actually, I think my reaction was pretty typical for me.
I'd put the baseball analogy aside. I just don't think it works - you can't fire the whole team, if if you should.
My point is that I'm not sure that in the Bud Light case, anyone should be fired. I don't like scapegoats. I don't like bullies. And I think the CEO of A-B should've had a backbone.
From another MNB reader:
I have to totally agree with your opinion on this. I’m sure the people at the top had to ok this before he happened. These companies have to learn that when they take political positions they automatically lose 50% of your potential customer base no matter if you are democrat republican or other. They should do what they were hired to do. Run the company.
I would only quibble with one thing in your email. Trying to expand Bud Light's appeal by sending a swag bag to an influencer who is transgender doesn't strike me as a political statement. It seems to me that it probably was one of a number of marketing moves being made to reverse the downward trend of a brand. Now, the argument can be made that someone in the room should've observed that it might be seen as a political statement by some folks, but I don't think it started out that way.
What happened afterwards, however, is all about cultural politics.
Responding to my piece last week about Price Chopper's Neil Golub's commitment to development in Schenectady, NY, one MNB reader wrote:
I worked with Neil at Price Chopper for 16 years and had the privilege of being involved in some of early years of his effort with Schenectady 2000 and later Metroplex. His commitment and passion were and are undeniable. This past summer my wife and I returned to visit Neil and had the tour as well. The change is extraordinary. And so is Neil.
On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:
When I read your article on Netflix eliminating its DVD rental service it brought me back to the days of Blockbuster et all and how my girlfriend (wife now) and I looked forward to the release of much anticipated box office hits. We would rush to those video rental stores (including the grocery store video dept we both met at) when they opened in hopes of renting them on the first day.
Although I admit the convenience now of being able to stream them is enjoyable it was nice to reminisce of those times in the 90's. Glad you posted the article.
And finally, from another reader:
Happy that you concur that baseball’s changes to speed up the game make baseball more enjoyable and relevant. Average game in 1981 was 2 hours 33 minutes. Average game in 2022 was 3 hours 7 minutes. This season, time of game is down 33 minutes and batting average up 16 points. Not only are the games much faster, but rule changes have changed team’s strategy to include bunting, hit and run and base stealing. Love the rule that starts a runner at 2nd base in extra innings. Makes games more exciting and saves pitching staff’s arms with less pitches. Baseball was in danger of major decline unless these changes were made. Now if they can offer lower ticket prices and less expensive food and and parking…