As you’ve probably noticed, the word “woke” has been entirely wrung of any meaning in recent years. BlackRock and Silicon Valley Bank are “woke”, according to the right. Walt Disney is woke. Pope Francis is woke. Even the US military industrial complex is woke.
The newest target? Miller Lite. Conservatives are hopping mad after discovering a two-month-old Miller Lite commercial that was released during Women’s History Month.
What exactly is the problem with this ad? Well, it seems that people are taking extreme offense to the fact that that the ad humorously points out that there is a long history of misogyny in beer advertising, including Miller’s own legacy of using women in skimpy bikinis to sell lager. Fully-clothed women drinking beer? Woke!
Ilana Glazer of Broad City fame stars in the commercial, which encourages people to send in sexist beer ads so Miller Lite, which is owned by Molson Coors, can turn them into fertilizer. That fertilizer is then donated to female brewers who (bear with me here) use it to grow hops for beer. The whole initiative is called the “Bad $#!T to Good $#!T” recycling campaign. To recap: what is essentially an extremely belabored poop joke has incensed conservatives who are now calling for a boycott of Miller Lite.
If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu from all this, it’s because we have seemingly entered week 934 of rightwing outrage about beer. The Miller Lite debacle follows an extended backlash to Bud Light’s partnership with the trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney last month. When I say “partnership”, I mean that Bud Light sent a personalized beer can to an influencer with 10 million followers who then made a sponsored video and put it on her Instagram page. We’re not talking a giant campaign or a groundbreaking statement about trans rights – we’re talking a tiny nod to inclusivity and an attempt to broaden Bud Light’s reach among a different audience. Which, by the way, is not exactly a huge pivot for Bud Light: the brand has been running ads targeted at the LGBTQ+ community since the late 1990s. And yet there was still a massive backlash and a conservative boycott of Bud Light.
While conservative boycotts generally have very little effect, the backlash from the Mulvaney campaign was intense and reportedly caused a big 21% drop in sales across US retail stores during a week in mid-April, per an analysis of Nielsen figures cited in the Wall Street Journal.
People have every right to express their opinions and to boycott brands. (Unlike many conservatives, I strongly support the right to boycott.) But what happened with Bud Light – and what’s being repeated with Miller Lite – was nothing less than a targeted harassment and intimidation campaign.
Outraged conservatives found the marketing executives responsible for the campaign and hounded them online. Trolls went through social media and found embarrassing photos of Alissa Heinerscheid, who oversaw the partnership between Bud Light and Mulvaney, in college in order to try to paint her as a hypocrite for saying that Bud Light needed to update its “fratty” image. Her face was splashed all over rightwing media sites. She reportedly got death threats.
Both Heinerscheid and Group VP Daniel Blake, who oversaw marketing for Anheuser-Busch’s mainstream brands, were put on leaves of absence. Rather than protecting their employees and sticking by a consistent set of principles, Anheuser-Busch, which owns Bud Light, seemed to throw its executives under the bus and kowtow to the bigoted masses. “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” the company’s CEO, Brendan Whitworth, said in a wishy-washy press release titled Our Responsibility To America. “We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.” It then released a new patriotic ad pandering to conservatives.
A similar harassment campaign is now being waged against Sofia Colucci, the chief marketing officer for Molson Coors. Rightwing outlets are publishing hit pieces targeting the executive and Colucci has reportedly deleted multiple social media account pages because of the harassment. Thankfully Molson Coors is reacting with a little more courage than Anheuser-Busch and refusing to pander to bigots.
“People can take issue with our ads or our brands, but we won’t stand by as people personally attack our employees – especially given that these are company decisions, and are never made by one single person,” Adam Collins, Molson Coors’ chief communications and corporate affairs officer, told Newsweek on Tuesday. Which is precisely what the people at Bud Light should have said. Indeed, if Anheuser-Busch had reacted with a little more guts, then conservatives might not have felt so emboldened to start attacking executives at Molson Coors.
Conservatives, it should be noted, have been getting outraged at adverts since the advent of television. You don’t have to do much to trigger the right, after all; you just have to remind them that they live in the 21st century. In 2013, for example, a Cheerios ad with an interracial family sparked online outrage from the right (yes, you read that right: 2013). Then in 2016, Old Navy was similarly accused of “anti-white propaganda” because there was an interracial family in its ads.So none of this outrage is new. What does feel new, however, are the targeted attacks on marketing executives and the coordinated attempts to get them fired. The right has a history of using online mobs to get journalists it doesn’t like fired, and now it’s using this playbook to target and censor other industries.