Buzzfeed dubs Bud Light the "rape culture" beer

Remember the Bud Light #Upforwhatever campaign? It rolled out with Ian in the Super Bowl 2014, where he was driven around in a Hummer limo and met a llama named Lily before playing ping pong with Arnold. By Super Bowl 2015 we had an unsuspecting bar hopper who accepts a Bud Light, then gets sucked into a real life Pac-Man game, where he is Pac-Man. Fun times! And weird. The kind of commercials that are more fun to be in, than to watch, but the idea is clear - Bud Light is the kind of beer you could drink when you're up for whatever, from backyard BBQ's to dancing all night at sweaty nightclubs, or just shooting the shit at your local with some friends. Bud light is the all occasions beer.

That is, until someone read the smallprint. And then read into the smallprint. The #Upforwhatever tag varies on the beer bottles, there's actually 140 different messages, one of them reads: "The Perfect beer for removing "No" from your vocabulary for the night."

Buzzfeed news reporter Rachel Zarrell wrote this article: People Are Saying Bud Light’s New Tagline Promotes Rape Culture - because of the link between intoxication and rape. This has been a sore spot since long before Camille Paglia doused the already inflamed debate in tequila in 1992 with "If someone gets behind the wheel of a car drunk and mows down three people, you wouldn't excuse him because he started whining that he didn't mean it".

What are some of the other lines? “The perfect beer for leaving your comfort zone in another time zone.” and “The perfect beer for taking off the blindfold and showing that piñata who’s boss.” Uhm... We can read into these lines too, if we try hard enough. I'm sure someone will find innuendo in “The perfect beer for tuning up the old air guitar.”

Buzzfeed got this statement from Anheuser-Busch:

The Bud Light Up for Whatever campaign, now in its second year, has inspired millions of consumers to engage with our brand in a positive and light-hearted way. In this spirit, we created more than 140 different scroll messages intended to encourage spontaneous fun. It’s clear that this message missed the mark, and we regret it. We would never condone disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.

So, apologizing for the one line out of 140 lines that had the wrong tone of voice. Unlike True Fruits and Protein World, Bud Light are not interested in defending a line that could be misinterpreted, they're interested in being liked by everyone. We've come a long way baby, since the tagline "get yourself a Busch" was growled while the commercial visual showed a beer bottle flowing over beside a woman's bare midriff and her stylish "Busch" logo belt. (That's a Bill Hicks joke, y'all)

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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kidsleepy's picture

It says "the perfect beer for removing no from your vocabulary. Not her vocabulary. How stupid is Buzzfeed? Oh, wait. I already know the answer to this.

David Felton's picture

Great insight Åsk, it's pieces like this that have made Adland so popular; cutting through the bullshit with perspective and intelligence.

In my most recent piece I ask: Will we see more brands standing up to a loud minority, prepared to take offense at any perceived slight? In short - no, we won't.

I think that's what we're seeing here. Another brand backing down, because to do anything otherwise would be to risk criticism and protest from the professional victims. We're not seeing a revolution in marketing techniques, but we might be seeing gradual changes as more brands refuse to be bullied for their innocent messages.

Personally I'm not invested to the extent I care much either way, but that said, I would have a lot more respect for Bud Light for sticking to their guns and refusing to apologise. Whatever happened to backing up the strength of ones convictions. Integrity, anyone?

Angel's picture

Have you ever been date raped? Have you ever woken up in bed with an acquaintance with no memory of the night before (or even, for that matter, *seeing that person* the night before)? And did you find out later that he had been tasked with putting you in a cab home that night because you were barely able to stand or make a coherent sentence, but took it upon himself to get into that cab as well because he saw your semi-consciousness as an opportunity? Well? And then did you have to see his face every single day afterwards? And be constantly reminded of what happened, knowing that you were neither physically nor psychologically able to say "No" to someone who saw your incapacitation as an excuse to violate you?

Because I have. And so have a hell of a lot of other women. 1 in 3 to be exact. One. In. Three.

Professional victims? Being too sensitive? Experience what I and 33.3% of other women have and then tell me that I'm being ridiculous for having an adverse reaction to that line.

(Insert obligatory disclaimer about the fact that "yes, this does happen to men too, but that it's far more prevalent amongst women" here.)

On the surface, the distinction between the wording being "from your vocabulary" as opposed to "from her vocabulary" is significant, in that it's not necessarily "promoting rape culture" as suggested. But still remains an incredibly powerful trigger for the woman who picks up the bottle herself, reads that line, and remembers the time that "no" was removed from her vocabulary....

That time it happened to me.

David Felton's picture

Angel, If you find yourself "triggered" by a silly little innofensive message on a beer bottle, then I'm sorry but the problem lies with you, not the rest of society thanks.

Tom Megginson's picture

David, I find your response to Angel disgusting. The problem lies with a society that doesn't care about the sensitivities of a person who has been hurt by another. Even if Anheuser-Busch meant no intentional offense by the line, it was indeed extremely ignorant of the entire discussion around consent that is happening and needs to happen. And which the beer companies have a responsibility to address.

They are right to apologize, and should learn from this. And I don't think they're the only one who owes somebody an apology for being obnoxious.

Dabitch's picture

David, you're on point in your recent Protein World article when you say that Brand Managers are petrified of alienating or upsetting their audience. Bud Light wants to be the best selling light beer in America, it wants everyone to like them. They need to add soft padding to everything they say, so as to not offend. It's not the 90s we won't see the Swedish Bikini team again. So of course they apologized.

Even Congresswoman Nita Lowey a Senior Democrat on House Appropriations Committee got in on this twitter-outrage against Bud's 2 year old #upforwhatever campaign.

Like Kidsleepy says, the grammar reads as YOU remove "no" from YOUR vocabulary. The Bud Light is not the official vessel for a Mickey placed there by another party, it's the buzz you take yourself. & then you're #upforwhatever, like skinny dipping in moonlight or something (p.s. don't drink and swim, kids).

Angel, your detailed description of a traumatic experience where you describe yourself as "semi-conscious" and then without memory at all of the evenings events, is only related to the Bud Light tagline if you were rapidly consuming alcohol which precedes an alcohol related blackout. This is the very reason there's a statement on all alcohol advertising to please "consume responsibly", because frankly, alcohol is dangerous.

David Felton's picture

Tom, I get that your personal brand is being the "Ethical Adman", that's fair enough. My personal brand is being the "Pragmatic Adman". We both have our own perspectives on this but you really don't need to dial the moral outrage up to 11.

Kidsleepy's point here is the smartest thing I've read all day. And no, I won't apologise for that either. But when it comes to apologies, as Åsk says, Bud Light had absolutely no choice. They want to be the beer who is liked by everyone, no exceptions.

This reminds me of the time I was writing for Bacardi and we put out a tweet "Mojito means 'little spell' in an African language." Fine, right? Wrong. Before the end of the day we had a dozen offended replies "So you think Africans all speak the same LANGUAGE?" and "Oh yeah Bacardi, Africa is just one country isn't it?! So INSULTED." And of course, the usual favourite, "I will never drink Bacardi again, you have lost me forever as a customer." That was a fun day at work.

In short people hate brands and can't wait for you to trip up at the tiniest thing. I learnt a lot from that experience.

Tom Megginson's picture

This is nowhere near 11, David. I think that your comment to someone who is talking about being drunkenly raped by an acquaintance is absolutely appalling, but I'm restraining my full outrage since this is a professional advertising forum.

I see nothing "pragmatic" about you telling someone that their feelings about a very ignorant copy line aren't relevant. They are. If you want to be pragmatic, it is our job to help our clients avoid these insensitive mistakes. Especially when there are shareholders and/or a mass market involved.

Your Bacardi line was, indeed, ignorant and colonial, and I hope you learned that brands are held to extremely high standards by our diverse and connected world. Now if you can only learn to have some goddamn empathy for victims of sexual violence, that might be some growth. We can do better than this.

David Felton's picture

This isn't a "very ignorant" line; it's simply an example of how a hypersensitive culture exists online, and which brands are now expected to answer to. For me the line "The perfect beer for removing "No" from your vocabulary for the night" just means, "Have a great time saying yes to all your friends!" Wanna jump in the pool - yes! Wanna stay out all night - yes! Want another beer (crucially) - yes! The fact people now go to such lengths to twist an innocent message speaks volumes about Americanised outrage culture. Only a very sad person would read a line like this and somehow manage to construct a negative message. Because if they think Bud Light is actually condoning date rape, then no, I have absolutely no pity for this kind of delusion whatsoever.

Curious's picture

Is this why 7up is not advertising anymore? Because if you made "7up yours" today, the outrage would fuel a small city?

Tom Megginson's picture

David, I understood what I presumed was the intent of the line, within the overall campaign. I also think that we have a responsibility to listen to people who tell us that our work hurts them in ways we didn't anticipate. This doesn't require one to believe that Bud Light is condoning date rape; it can also be a realization that advertising can have unintended negative consequences to vulnerable groups of people. And it requires us to be willing to learn and grow.

I'm not interested in winning an argument here, but I sincerely hope that you can someday drop the reactionary "Americanised outrage culture" strawman. It's neither smart nor original.

Maybe, instead, you could put yourself in the shoes of someone who has been raped in the context of binge-drinking party culture. Imagine seeing a campaign that talks about having "no" removed from your vocabulary, as part of losing all inhibitions. Think about your rapist telling everyone that you wanted it at the time, and he couldn't control himself anyway, and that you just regretted your decision afterwards. While his buddies give him high-fives. With Buds in their other hands. Superimpose logo and tagline.

Isn't understanding other people what advertising is all about? Alcohol has a role in date rape, just as it has a role in drunk driving. While people are responsible for their own criminal actions, the brands have a social (and often regulatory) responsibility to at least not promote the negative consequences of abuse of their products. This isn't just me: Lisa Weser, Senior Director, U.S. Marketing Communications at Anheuser-Busch, told me on Twitter that she considered the can "an undisputable facepalm." I wouldn't be surprised if the campaign winds down early as a result of the PR clusterf*ck.

David, there's no way we're going to see eye-to-eye on this in the short term. It is clear that you have no "pity" for Angel. Which makes you not so much "pragmatic" as painfully out-of-touch, in my opinion. But everyone has an opportunity to evolve. I hold out hope for you yet.

Dabitch's picture

Sidenote: Taking the lords name in vain is offensive to Christians, of which there are more than 2 billion in the world (2010 stats). If we have a responsibility to listen to people who tell us that X hurts, this also applies to listening to Christians, I'll suppose.

Tom Megginson's picture

Could be, in theory, but in practice there's a big difference in power and vulnerability between Christians and victims of sexual violence. Kicking people when they're down, even just because you couldn't be bothered to look where you were stepping, has never seemed right to me.

kidsleepy's picture

"could be in theory?" So in other words, being insensitive to someone's religious beliefs is okay because it's a lesser issue? Sorry but I completely disagree with that. Not sure if you've heard of what's going on in the Middle East with Christians being executed, but if you are perfectly willing to dismiss that as being no biggie than you need to do a little more research or go to sensitivity school yourself.

Regardless, you can't cry fairness and justice and sensitivity for one group while dismissing another group entirely as that's simple prejudice. or hypocritical or both. You're either fair to all, or you're not.

More importantly you're acting under the fallacy that somehow Bud Light purposefully decided to offend a particular group of people with one headline as part of their overall campaign which I've already demonstrated is semantically not doing what is being proposed by Buzzfeed.

Overreaction is at an all time high but if we're seriously looking at Buzzfeed as being an arbiter of truth or moral compass, we need to reorient ourselves. In my opinion this is a made-up tempest in a teapot designed for views and nothing more than that. And it's worked amazingly well for Buzzfeed.

This campaign has been running for a while and no one questioned its purpose until now. This is a bullshit story cooked up to push the right buttons and nothing more than that. It's the old "when did you stop beating your wife," tactic. Bud Light has to be on the defensive because of some ginned up story by a sleazy media outlet. We should take this for what it is and nothing more.

Bud Light wants to sell beer. Not offend people. The bigger the corporation the more litigious they are, anyway. But hey, Bud Light's apologized, so everyone can take their victory lap.

In the meantime Christians are still being beheaded. Let me know when Buzzfeed writes about that and then I'll be impressed.

Tom Megginson's picture

Hey Kid Sleepy

I'm aware of what's going on with Christians in Kenya and elsewhere, but we're all in the West here, and the idea of offense and hurt is still very different between a vulnerable person who is a victim of assault and a religious group that is in the majority in the 4 nations this discussions represents. If an ad made light of killing Christians, rather than the example of taking the "Lord's" name in vain, then I would accept the parallel. But that's not what we're talking about here. It's a red herring. Let's not do that.

Instead, let's back up and look at this objectively: A major brand does a cheeky campaign. One small element of that campaign blows up on social media because it was tone-deaf in terms of current social issues and sensitivities. The brand admits it was a misstep. The chaos gradually dies down. We all learned a valuable lesson.

This is the kind of story we're all very familiar with. You can take the stand that people are too hard on brands and look for reasons to be offended, or you can say that they should be more careful because this is the age we live in now. That is a debate that we can have as professionals, and we'll all benefit from having a respectful discussion about it.

What derailed this thread, in my opinion, was David's callous dismissal of an individual victim of sexual violence, sharing her story here. This is where we've stepped outside of theoretical debate. He has, in effect, re-victimized her by saying she doesn't have a right to be hurt by the stupid line on the bottle. That's really unconscionable in my book.

Angel's comment, and what happened afterwards, is an important reminder that our work has effects that we might not anticipate. No, I don't think Bud Light's campaign team purposely promoted rape culture. But making light of "no" in that context was a stupid mistake that should have been caught by wiser heads along the approval process. For the sake of the brand, if not for the sake of people who have been sexually assaulted and the people who love them.

I'm not sure why we can't see this as it is: another opportunity to gain wisdom in advertising. Buzzfeed is irrelevant to the conversation, because there are literally millions of other places this could have happened. They just lit the match, so to speak, but the gasoline was already everywhere.

Let's maybe forget about "outrage," "offense" and "sensitivity" and instead look at empathy and being excellent to each other. It's easy to say that people are too quick to anger, and for sure there are people who cynically make a living feeding those fires. But in the aftermath, Bud Light has the opportunity to make a positive statement about their corporate social responsibility.

The question is, has David learned anything?

David Felton's picture

Tom, some friendly advice, people might take you a bit more seriously if you didn't constantly put yourself across like a sanctimonious asshole. This is an advertising website, not another outlet for your Chronicles of a Pious Marty and his Mission to Indignantly Educate the World.

Maybe (taking the conversation back to advertising), I found Mother London's stunt I Found Jesus In London sleazy and offensive to Christians. But according to you that doesn't matter because Christians aren't an oppressed group. Did you read what Kidsleepy just wrote? Nice to see advertising's social justice warrior throwing his opinion under the bus because it doesn't matter to you. Your hypocrisy is as disgusting as you purport my perspective to be and frankly I find it offensive.

You see Tom, you and people like you don't have the monopoly on hurt feelings. I think you owe Kidsleepy an apology for calling an issue which clearly concerns him a "red herring". We're talking about murder here. How callous can you get?

Tom Megginson's picture

Nice try, David. But this is really about you being horribly insensitive to a person who reported being raped. Your attempts at flaming me don't do a thing to distract from that.

I'm happy to debate advertising with Dabitch and kidsleepy, because I respect their opinions even when I disagree with them. But you're just not worth it. At least, not based on what you've brought to this thread.

David Felton's picture

Wow, talk about a total failure once again to engage in the discussion, beyond finger pointing and accusations. Shame. I was expecting more.

Eric's picture

i thought those adds were for the idiot culture? Morons think it's reality. Women who think that scene is cool are just dumb, I'm sorry but what do they expect? If they don't think about things clearly then that is no excuse. Who wants to drink bud light anyway?