Bud Light and Nike face conservative backlash over partnerships with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney

US transgender TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney (left) is at the centre of a controversy over her partnership with the beer Bud Light.
US transgender TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney (left) is at the centre of a controversy over her partnership with the beer Bud Light. Copyright AP Photo
By Anca Ulea
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Bud Light and Nike face boycotts in the US and UK after the brands partnered with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Here's what you need to know.

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Last week, US rockstar Kid Rock posted a video of himself on Twitter wearing a MAGA hat and shooting a stack of Bud Light cases with an assault rifle.

What inspired the now-firmly middle aged Rock to waste bullets on a box of beer cans? The fact that Bud Light’s parent company Anheuser-Busch had sent US transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney a can of beer with her face on it.

The Mulvaney-Bud Light fiasco has become the latest flashpoint in the US culture wars, igniting conservative hatred on and offline against both Mulvaney and Anheuser-Busch over their partnership.

Another brand partnership between Mulvaney and Nike has also drawn criticism – from both sides of the Atlantic – as British former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies called for a boycott of Nike products over what she called a “kick in the teeth”.

New to the story? Euronews Culture is here to break it down for you.

Who is Dylan Mulvaney?

For those who aren’t chronically online or musical theatre nerds, this may be the first time you’ve ever even heard of Mulvaney.

The 26-year-old transgender actress first became known for her role as Elder White in the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” but more recently her popularity exploded on TikTok as she chronicled her transition journey in a series called “365 Days of Girlhood”. 

Mulvaney – who uses she/they pronouns – now has 10.8 million followers on the app.

What’s at the heart of the Mulvaney-Bud Light controversy?

Mulvaney posted a video on Instagram on 2 April promoting a contest for Bud Light with the hashtag #budlightpartner. In the video, they also showed off commemorative cans the brand had sent her with her face on them, celebrating their “365 Days of Girlhood” series.

The backlash was swift, with anti-trans and right-wing groups in the US calling for a boycott of Bud Light and Anheuser-Busch.

US country music star Travis Tritt said he would remove Anheuser-Busch products from the hospitality rider on his tour

How has Bud Light responded?

Despite fake news circulating online, Anheuser-Busch has not fired its marketing team in response to the controversy. And while Anheuser-Busch hasn’t come out publicly to support Mulvaney, the company said in a statement that it partners with a variety of different influencers to reach new audiences.

“Anheuser-Busch works with hundreds of influencers across our brands as one of many ways to authentically connect with audiences across various demographics,” a spokesperson said in a statement shared with US media. “From time to time we produce unique commemorative cans for fans and for brand influencers, like Dylan Mulvaney. This commemorative can was a gift to celebrate a personal milestone and is not for sale to the general public.”

Why are some British women calling for a boycott against Nike?

Another one of Mulvaney’s brand partnerships has touched a nerve across the Atlantic as well. 

In the UK, some women have said they’re boycotting Nike after Mulvaney posted a new paid partnership with the athletics brand.

Former British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies called the partnership “a kick in the teeth” in an interview with the right-wing British TV network GB News. Davies said it was particularly hypocritical considering Nike’s miniscule financial contribution to women’s sports.

“The ad feels like a parody of what women are,” Davies said in the interview. “In the past it was always seen as an insult to say, 'run like a girl' and here we've got someone behaving in a way that's very un-sporty and very unathletic and it's so frustrating when only 1 per cent of USA sponsorship dollar goes to females in sport.”

Scottish MP Pauline McNeill also responded to Mulvaney’s post saying she would no longer shop at Nike’s stores.

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Whether or not trans athletes should be allowed to compete in categories that align with their gender identity has been hotly debated in the UK.

Last week Swim England introduced a new transgender policy in which trans women must compete in an “open” gender category, while only athletes who were assigned female at birth can compete in the “women’s” category. It follows a decision by UK Athletics banning trans women from competing in female competition.

Why are brands getting more progressive?

Spoiler: It’s not out of the goodness of their hearts.

Even as recently as a few years ago, it would have been close to unthinkable for a brand like Bud Light – which is deeply associated with blue-collar (read: conservative) America – to feature a trans person in its marketing. But the times they are a-changin’ – brands are coming to the realisation that a growing chunk of the global public is non-heteronormative and that some of those people want to drink beer, too.

The LGBTQI+ community is estimated to represent around 9% of the global population, according to a recent survey, and that figure doubles among Gen Z respondents.

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For brands, this translates to a lot of cash – the LGBTQI+ community represents around $3.9 trillion (€3.58 trillion) annually in global purchasing power. Companies are trying to secure their piece of the increasingly rich pie.

And as they try (sometimes clumsily) to appeal to these younger consumers, they’re inevitably going to piss off their older, more reactionary counterparts.

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