• Gene J. Puskar/AP Photos
  • Bad boy beer

Marketing is like a chess game. The marketer advances a poisoned pawn. Whether eagerly or reluctantly, the opposition bites and takes it. “Oh, my goodness, did we make a humdinger of a mistake!” the marketer then squeals, moving up more pieces to consolidate a winning position.

Who drinks Bud Light? It’s easily the best-selling beer in America, so the answer is lots of people do. But research by Mindset Media a few years ago fleshed out the answer: “Bud Light drinkers profile as lacking in carefulness. They are grounded like their Bud brethren, but respect authority. Bud Lighters can also have frat boy-like personalities, particularly when it comes to personal risk-taking. In regard to others, these good-time guys and gals are accepting of most everyone and generally easy to get along with.”

Bud Light drinkers, in other words, are happy to drink a bland, mass-produced domestic beer that flatters their wild-and-crazy side, such as it is—or should we say, their need to think they have one? This tells us the current ad campaign, “The perfect beer for whatever happens,” is on the money. The beer bottles carry little hedonistic messages that embellish the boast, one of which asserts Bud Light is “the perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night. #UpForWhatever.”

A poisoned pawn, this claim was simply too big, fat, and tempting to be ignored.

“The official beer of rape culture,” tweeted a John Overholt.

“What the fuck Bud Light?!?! Not cool man,” said somebody on Reddit.

The Consumerist website thought deeply. “Given the role that alcohol plays in many things that would have been a ‘no’ without a night of drinking—driving under the influence, sexual assault, vandalism, public urination, random ‘woot-woot’-ing as you ping-pong down the sidewalk—it’s probably not the best idea for a multinational multibillion-dollar business like Bud Light’s parent company AB InBev to publicly acknowledge that its product can lead users down a path to stupid consequences.”

Now it was Anheuser-Busch’s move. The media office issued a statement “for attribution” to the vice president in charge of the brand, “for attribution” being an acknowledgement the vice president probably didn’t write a word of it. The “Up for Whatever” campaign, which is “now in its second year [i.e., we’ve got a winner on our hands], has inspired millions of consumers to engage with our brand in a positive and light-hearted way.”

But as in any romance, mistakes are made.

“In this spirit,” the statement continued, “we created more than 140 different scroll messages intended to encourage brand engagement. It’s clear that this particular message missed the mark, and we regret it. We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior. As a result, we have immediately ceased production of this message on all bottles.”

Leaving another 139.

“To be fair,”” tweeted a Colin Burns, “Bud Light wasn’t actually endorsing rape. It’s just an incredibly badly worded slogan.” Perhaps it was. Or perhaps Jennifer Pozner, executive director of Women in Media & News, was right when she told the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch that it’s “unthinkable” A-B could be so “clueless.” If they weren’t clueless, they knew what they were doing, like many a chess player advancing a poisoned pawn. “I think,” said Posner, “what they’re trying to do is position Bud Light as a beer for bad boys.”

Does it matter whether A-B actually screwed up or shrewdly designed a beer bottle that would get people talking—no harm done of any consequence? Either way, the brewer’s last move was an apology that sounds a lot more like bragging than anything remotely contrite. If Bud Light is looking for a new scroll message to replace the old one, let me suggest, “The perfect beer for saying ‘Sorry about that’ on your way out the door when it’s over.”