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Major bank takes action against Anheuser-Busch over Bud Light 'crisis': 'Raises many questions'

Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

HSBC, one of the world's largest banks, downgraded the stock of Anheuser-Busch InBev this week amid controversy over Bud Light's partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

Bank analysts downgraded the stock to "hold" status, which means investors should neither sell nor purchase the stock, CNBC reported.

In a note, HSBC analyst Carlos Laboy, managing director for the global beverage sector at the bank, justified the downgrade by questioning the ability of Anheuser-Busch InBev executives to understand their consumer base.

"Is ABI's leadership getting the brand culture transformation right? It's mixed. At Ambev, we think the answer is 'yes;' in the US, we think it's 'no,'" Laboy wrote. "The way this Bud Light crisis came about a month ago, management’s response to it and the loss of unprecedented volume and brand relevance raises many questions."

He further explained:

Why did its US leadership underestimate the risk of pushback given the recent experience of other firms? Is A-B hiring the best people to grow the brands and gauge risk? If Budweiser and Bud Light are iconic American ideas that have long brought consumers together, why did these marketers fail to invite new consumers without alienating the core base of the firm’s largest brand?

Anheuser-Busch is facing a host of problems in the U.S.

Not only are Bud Light sales tanking — and even spilling over to other popular Anheuser-Busch brands — while competitors Coors Light and Miller Light benefit, but Anheuser-Busch is facing pressure from the LGBT community to support LGBT causes.

But Anheuser-Busch InBev executives are trying to distance their company from the controversy.

On a call last week, Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Michel Doukeris sought to clarify that the Mulvaney sponsorship was not a formal marketing "campaign."

"We need to continue to clarify the facts — that was one can, one post, one influencer, and not a campaign," he said.

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