When Cannes Lions announced in March that Anheuser-Busch InBev would be honored this summer as its first-ever back-to-back Creative Marketer of the Year winner, Cannes Lions CEO Simon Cook championed the brewer, saying it had “embedded a culture that ensures continued success is inevitable.”
Just a few months later, that assessment seems naive, as the company has suffered a downward spiral in the wake of Bud Light’s partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Conservatives boycotted the brand, progressives complained that AB InBev failed to defend LGBTQ+ rights as it dealt with the backlash, U.S. sales and market share tanked, and Bud Light shook up its marketing leadership team.
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The situation puts the world’s largest brewer and Cannes organizers in an awkward position as they prepare to head to the south of France in June. Celebrating a company that has made multiple missteps in handling the Mulvaney matter will only fuel award-show critics who say creative trophies can be meaningless, at least when it comes to business results.
Furthermore, the festival is happening during Pride Month and promises to feature much discussion, as well as new research and initiatives, around LGBTQ+ rights—which could bring renewed questions about AB InBev’s commitment to the LGBTQ+ community in the face of financial pressures on its business. (On Tuesday, Bud Light announced a $200,000 donation to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, extending an existing partnership.)