A sports fan holding a can of Bud Light beer (Photo: Getty Images)
A sports fan holding a can of Bud Light beer (Photo: Getty Images)

SocietyJune 12, 2023

‘Bud-lighting’: The cancellation campaign coming for a company near you

A sports fan holding a can of Bud Light beer (Photo: Getty Images)
A sports fan holding a can of Bud Light beer (Photo: Getty Images)

First it was US consumers boycotting a beer brand over a trans influencer. Now anti-LGBTQ+ activists have their sights set on New Zealand targets.

This story was first published on Stuff.

A conspiracy influencer headed for The Warehouse to speak to the manager. She’d taken offence to something on the company’s website: a Pride month promotion pledging to donate a portion of the proceeds from certain products to the rainbow charity InsideOUT Kōaro.

The 12 products were from Disney’s “Pride” range: Clothing with a rainbow-coloured silhouette of Mickey Mouse; rainbow-coloured charging cables; rainbow-coloured pens and pencils.

None allude to sex or gender identity. They’re just colourful.

The influencer nevertheless told the manager that Disney’s movies are “full of hypersexualisation” and contain “subconscious programming for children”.

“Are you aware they’re completely tied up with paedophilia?” she said, referring to Disney. The manager was not aware.

Two items from the Disney Pride range: a toy Stormtrooper and a Mickey-ears notebook

The influencer wasn’t alone.

Online, people filed complaints to The Warehouse through customer support, asking why the company supported paedophilia and the sexualisation of children.

On Twitter, Facebook and Telegram, many dozens of users have called for a boycott of the company and its other brands, posts which have been shared with tens of thousands of people, according to online metrics.

It has spread further into calls for a boycott of anything vaguely Pride-related.

Schools have received emails from parents about Schools’ Pride Week, an initiative by InsideOUT Kōaro, stating they’ll keep their children home (the event, which is voluntary, encourages schools to celebrate pride with activities such as shared lunches or a non-uniform day).

Even museums aren’t safe from the culture war. A recent visitor to Auckland War Memorial Museum complained about a self-guided audio walkthrough ushering listeners through objects important to queer history. Of particular offence was a voiceover describing the sexual functions of a Kauri snail.

“Listen to this filth at our museum that our precious children have access to!” a user posted on Telegram, with others chiming in demanding a boycott.

(The audio tour clearly states it contains adult content and may not be suitable for children).

This was picked up by Counterspin Media, who on Telegram posted with outrage the five-year-old news that the museum had been awarded a Rainbow Tick.

“Write to Auckland Museum to express our disgust”, one user responded.

Another simply stated: “BOYCOTT”.

This might sound familiar to those attuned to current US events.

It’s a phenomenon called “Bud Lighting” – choosing a company, branding it “woke”, and targeting it with consumer boycotts to drive down sales.

It started with a campaign against the beer brand Bud Light after it partnered with influencer Dylan Mulvaney, who is trans. It caused a significant dip in the company’s share price and an ongoing sales slump.

An anti-Bud Light sign in Arco, Idaho.(Photo: Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

Once that energy dissipated, attention turned to the department store Target, which has long sold a seasonal ‘Pride range’ of clothing products.

Amongst the offending products were trans-friendly togs for adults. Target withdrew some of the products citing health and safety concerns for staff, and the stock price has fallen.

Attention has now turned to another department store, Kohl’s.

These campaigns are not organic. They are engineered to punish companies that support the rainbow community and are meant to intimidate other companies from doing the same.

“The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic for brands,” wrote the conservative media figure Matt Walsh, who drove the Target boycott, on Twitter last month.

“If they decide to shove this garbage in our face, they should know that they’ll pay a price.”

New Zealand doesn’t have Bud Light or Target (well, not that Target). In the globalised world of online reactionary movements – where participants will swarm on an issue seemingly without warning – the New Zealand contingent was left out.

The result has been half-hearted attempts at Bud Lighting random New Zealand targets, hoping one will stick.

So far, it has not worked. Shortly before the Bud Light controversy, Voices for Freedom tried to engineer a boycott of ASB Bank after the company posted an image of a Pride flag on its Facebook page on the day Posie Parker’s Auckland event was disrupted. It quickly passed with no noticeable impact.

The campaign against The Warehouse is even more disorganised and exists mainly on the fringes of polite society. The Warehouse has not altered its promotion.

“We support many incredible charities and community groups including Youthline, Salvation Army, Variety, Life Education, and InsideOUT, and all the great work they do for young people and Kiwi families,” said Jonathan Waecker, chief customer and sales officer for The Warehouse Group.

“We are proud to reflect the diversity that makes Aotearoa special, and hate has no place in our country or in our stores.”

Even if the companies themselves are unaffected – except, perhaps, for staff members forced to listen to someone explain the evils of Disney to them – it has added to the atmosphere of hostility towards the rainbow community.

“For the last few months, we have been receiving hateful communications either via social media, email or phone on almost a daily basis, whereas this used to be incredibly rare,” said Tabby Besley, managing director of InsideOut Kōaro, the charity being targeted with boycotts.

The Bud Lighting is likely to continue, given the success of the campaigns against Bud Light and Target. Already, new targets are being brainstormed.

Even if they don’t take hold in New Zealand, the attempted cancellations have an impact.

“It absolutely makes it harder to go to work not knowing if there’s going to be abuse on the other end of the line if you pick up the phone, but we are focused on continuing to support our communities across Aotearoa to feel safety and belonging,” Besley said.

Keep going!