In an effort to attract younger consumer groups, AB Inbev is using pinkwashing, painting itself as a supporter of LGBTQ rights. When pressured, the company backtracked, saying they “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people”.

Sales of AB Inbev beer brand Budweiser has been declining in the US for many years, especially among young people. Attempting to revert the declining trend, the company has repeatedly used pinkwashing – a strategy of promoting LGBTQ rights to improve reputation, attract new customers and increase profit.

In a March 2023 podcast, Alissa Heinerscheid, vice president of marketing for AB Inbev brand Bud Light, acknowledged that her main task is to tune the brand to a younger customer base:

“I had a really clear job to do when I took over Bud Light, and it was, ‘This brand is in decline, it’s been in a decline for a really long time, and if we do not attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand there will be no future for Bud Light,’” she said, adding that she wanted to update the company’s “fratty” image.”

One example of the practice of pinkwashing is the deal the company struck with influencer Dylan Mulvaney in 2023. Mulvaney posted a video of herself dressed like Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, using Budweiser to celebrate her first year of womanhood.

The post quickly picked up steam in conservative circles, with several right-wing commentators, media personalities and artists criticizing AB Inbev, and some groups calling for a boycott.

This seems to have given AB Inbev CEO Brendan Whitworth cold feet. In a company statement he points out he is “responsible for ensuring every consumer feels proud of the beer we brew” and highlighting the number of people the company and its distributors employ. “We have thousands of partners, millions of fans and a proud history supporting our communities, military, first responders, sports fans and hard-working Americans everywhere,” he said. “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people.”

The statement leaves many people with the understanding that the AB Inbev commitment to LGBTQ rights is primarily a marketing ploy.

“This is standard-issue pinkwashing stuff. They’re looking for ways to quote-unquote align their values with customer segments that they think maybe they can still find some loyalty in”, says Dave Infante, a columnist covering the beer industry, to Vox.