Anheuser-Busch Employees Are Pushing Back on Huge Marketing Spend

Workers that could strike as early as Thursday would like to see the company put more of its cash toward their wages.

Photo of Anheuser-Busch water can
Photo via Anheuser-Busch

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Anheuser-Busch InBev workers who could strike at 12 brewery locations as early as Thursday think the company should spend more on them – and less on extravagant marketing campaigns that blow up in its face. 

Trying to Make Up for Losses

AB InBev spent $3.5 billion on marketing in the first six months of 2023, 13% more than a year earlier. Part of that spend saw the company’s popular Bud Light brand partner with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney for a campaign during last year’s March Madness. The resulting controversy resulted in a boycott, losing Bud Light hundreds of millions of dollars in sales it has yet to recover.

AB’s strategy to regain its growth trajectory is to spend even more on marketing. But the Teamsters union, which represents 5,000 workers at 12 AB breweries and whose union contracts end on Thursday, says the best way for the company to rescue its image is to focus on its employees: 

  • After the Mulvaney backlash, AB InBev signed a deal worth more than $100 million to make Bud Light the official beer of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, spent roughly $21 million on three Super Bowl ads, and hired comedian Shane Gillis as a new spokesperson, in addition to other marketing efforts.
  • Last summer, AB posted an ad on its X account that highlights the company’s blue-collar workers  — from barley farmers to truck drivers to security guards. Teamsters spokeswoman Kara Deniz told Bloomberg some employees saw it as a soulless commendation, i.e., a real gesture of good faith would be negotiating better union contracts.

Cup of Joe: In other labor news, Starbucks said it’ll begin negotiations with the Workers United union that represents roughly 10,000 baristas across about 400 US locations. It’s quite the shift for the Seattle-based coffee chain that’s been accused of “union-busting” tactics like closing stores or firing organizers. But 2023 was a banner year for labor unions, with major wins across the automobile, healthcare, and TV and film industries. Looks like Starbucks is finally starting to wake up and smell the coffee.