Why Bud Light's advertising blunder is a big deal

Bud Light's newest advertising slogan did not go over well. Reminding people of sexual assault in advertising, even accidentally, is a serious matter.

Gene J. Puskar/AP/File
Aluminum bottles of Bud Light beer are on display in Pittsburgh. Anheuser-Busch apologized Tuesday for a slogan that appeared on bottles saying Bud Light removes the word 'no' from drinkers' vocabulary.

While controversial advertising is nothing new, Bud Light’s recent marketing slogan in its "Up For Whatever" campaign sounds like something out of the "Mad Men" era.

A new Bud Light label claims the drink is “the perfect beer for removing 'no' from your vocabulary for the night.” When bottles sporting this slogan were introduced to the public, people were quick to draw connections to date rape and sexual assault, a connection made more troubling by the relationship between alcohol and sexual violence.

Many took to Twitter to express their anger at the implications of the marketing campaign and disbelief that brewer Anheuser-Busch didn't pick up on the dark undertones.

Alexander Lambrecht, Vice President of Bud Light Anheuser-Busch, has since apologized for the advertisement’s message:

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 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.

Although we have come a long way since the advertising era depicted in AMC's hit show "Mad Men" – a time when ads that made light of domestic violence were accepted – Anheuser-Busch is far from the first company to spark controversy by evoking domestic violence in advertising.

In 2012, Belvedere Vodka introduced an ad featuring a smiling man grabbing a horrified woman with the tagline “unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly.” Later that year, Virgin Mobile published an ad of a man covering his wife’s eyes to give her a surprise present with the caption "Necklace? Or chloroform?" Both companies withdrew the advertisements after receiving complaints.

The accidental implication of the Bud Light slogan is made more sinister by alcohol’s frequent relationship with sexual assault. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 25 percent of American women have experienced some kind of sexual assault, and approximately half of those cases involved alcohol consumption by either the perpetrator or victim.

In a study on alcohol and sexual assault published by the institute, Antonia Abbey, an associate professor in the Department of Community Medicine at Wayne State University, wrote: "Beliefs about alcohol's effects on sexual and aggressive behavior, stereotypes about drinking women, and alcohol's effects on cognitive and motor skills contribute to alcohol-involved sexual assault." 

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