In 2023, American consumers demonstrated a strong reaction against “woke” corporations, leading to significant financial losses for many brands.
During a segment of “The Bottom Line” on FOX Business, hosts Kelly O’Grady and Sean Duffy reviewed some of the most notable instances of corporate virtue signaling and the ensuing backlash from consumers.
Anson Frericks, former President of Anheuser-Busch, observed that a growing number of consumers are resisting the influence of major corporations on their thoughts and actions. This sentiment was particularly evident in the case of Bud Light and its parent company, Anheuser-Busch. The company faced criticism after collaborating with transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney for a social media promotion during March Madness. Bud Light celebrated Mulvaney’s one-year anniversary of identifying as a woman by distributing personalized Bud Light packs featuring Mulvaney’s face.
The campaign sparked a significant negative response from long-time and loyal consumers. Brendan Whitworth, CEO of Anheuser-Busch, addressed the controversy on April 14, stating, “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.” Following this, Anheuser-Busch experienced a $27 billion drop in market value, and sales declined nearly 30% compared to the previous year. By July, the company announced layoffs of hundreds of workers and in the third quarter, it reported a 13.5% decrease in U.S. revenue and a 17.1% decline in North American sales volume.
Retail giant Target also faced consumer backlash after featuring transgender products in their Pride Month displays. These products included female-style swimsuits designed for “tucking” male genitalia. Some Target stores in the South moved Pride merchandise away from front displays to avoid a situation similar to Bud Light’s, as reported by Fox News Digital.
The Walt Disney Company ended 2023 with several disappointments, including box office failures and a public dispute with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the state’s Parental Rights bill. Out of eight major theatrical releases, seven underperformed globally. In November, Disney acknowledged in an SEC filing the risks of misalignment with public and consumer preferences. Bob Iger, who returned as Disney CEO in November 2022, expressed intentions to explore new strategic directions for the company. Disney’s stock price fell over 5% year to date, in contrast to the S&P 500’s 13% increase over the same period. Over the past five years, Disney shares have dropped by over 29%.
Frericks predicted a lengthy recovery process for these companies.
“It takes many years for corporations to build their brands, but just one marketing campaign to tear them down,” he said.
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