Social Media Trends and Celebrity Endorsements: Insights from Leading Entertainment Brands


Table Of Contents


THe Unpredictable Impact: Brands and the Cancel Culture

It’s becoming challenging for brands to safeguard themselves on marketing decisions that bring out surprises of cancel culture. Decisions that would not have raised much of an eyebrow even a few years ago are crashing stocks and causing trending social media havoc. 

Since Covid, I have had so many conversations with brands who fear saying the wrong thing and who want guidance and strategy - and for those who are proactive, a plan in case the worst happens. In this blog, Hollywood Branded shares the phenomenon of cancel culture and its impact on brand partnerships. 

Social Media Trends and Celebrity Endorsements Insights from Leading Entertainment Brands

Navigating Cancel Culture 

In the last few months, after Bud Light lit up the internet, those conversations of concern have been tenfold. I've spoken with many brands and their agencies who have been actively looking for authentic ways to partner with LGBTQ+ influencers and who have decided instead to put a pause for the moment.

Despite their genuinely wanting to be advocates of support and a voice of positivity, that decision is easy to understand. They fear their brand’s safety amidst social cancellation risks and job security. It’s a hard time to be a brand marketer.

Social media is core to the reason we are in the thick of cancel culture, starting with the #metoo movement, which took hold during covid and became heated during #BLM. It’s now settling into a divide over issues that really should not be politically driven. 

Cancel Culture

An Influencer Choice Leads To Outright Hatred

The Bud Light controversy began when Dylan Mulvaney, a TikTok and Instagram star, posted a video calling out a social challenge by Bud Light and then showing a customized can of Bud Light with Mulvaney's face printed on it. The whole initiative was to promote Bud Light’s sweepstakes for NCAA March Madness and to create a ton of user-generated content. Winners got a trip to the games and some cashola.  

This campaign had a goal beyond just getting in front of Mulvaney's millions of followers. It also allowed Bud Light to align with one of the most prominent LGBTQ+ trending influencers, as Mulvaney had just finished documenting her year-long gender transition journey on TikTok. Partnering allowed Bud Light to tap into her wide-reaching audience and potentially increase brand purchases among her fanbase. Bud Light likely recognized that her content resonates with younger audiences, who are increasingly socially conscious and value brands that align with their values. It should have been a strategic move to align the brand with the LGBTQ+ community and demonstrate support for social causes and their commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

But it was one of the worst decisions the brand ever made. This did not blow up just because of their choice to work with Mulvaney. It blew up because of how the brand responded by backpedaling.

Here is Mulvaney's Instagram Post

Video Credit: Dylan Mulvaney / Instagram

The Response By Bud Light, Wasn't Great

Bud’s team said they made a mistake and faltered, falling head over heels off the cliff into complete cancellation. Now, the brand is trying to forget what happened and rally its strength in the international market by stating that the US market loss is only 1% of its entire global catalog. True – but boy, they have a hill to climb to get back on top of their 147 years status as the king of beers.

Bud Light's sales have declined by almost 30%, and the brand lost its top-selling beer position. The fallout from the controversy also led to the removal of Anheuser-Busch's "Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality" designation by the Human Rights Campaign.

The fallout from the partnership shows the complex nature of brand associations and how different audiences can react differently to such initiatives.

Bud Light x LGBTQ+Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post 

So What Went Wrong?

That partnership decision sunk Bud Light and led to the chaos they are now drowning in. We are living in crazy times. This was a single influencer partnership among hundreds of influencers Bud Light works with. It certainly, however, was the one that got noticed.   

It would be interesting to know if Bud Light had paid to boost the post outside Mulvaney's fan base. Brands can get access to their influencer's content with permission, create an ad buy targeting specific demographics, and make one social post be guaranteed to be seen by millions - well beyond the influencer's fan base. This is a typical and strategic part of influencer marketing. So is that why this went wrong? Did the post get re-targeted to the wrong demographic? Only the beer brand's marketing team and influencer agency knows. Or are there haters stalking Dylan Mulvaney who just hang out waiting to see what she posts about, so they can make rallying cries to boycott? No idea, but wow, did this get some primary coverage by conservatives and the media in general?

The alignment for this Pride moment with NCAA also wasn't perfect. The entire punchline for Mulvaney's recorded post was that she didn't know what sports March Madness was and jokingly made clear that she has no interest in it. In reality, that was not only not authentic, but it also played into the stereotype of women not understanding sports. A double whammy that no one is talking about: don't get me wrong - I thought it was a good script, the creative was performed well, and would appeal to those who already follow Mulvaney. It is consistent with her onscreen character. 

For those who had her pop up in their feed who didn't already know her, that turned out to be the front headline news feeding frenzy that is still trending three months later.

New call-to-action

Bud Light's Blow Up

This led to a boycott of Bud Light among many other brands recently perceived to support progressive policies. The controversy intensified as a video of Bud Light being demolished by Kid Rock, as the antithesis to a celebrity endorsement, said, "F you Budweiser... F you Anheuser Busch". With all four letters said out loud. Country music stars John Rich (Big & Rich) and Travis Tritt joined in, stating they would no longer drink or serve the beer in their bars and venues. Even the Governor of Texas negatively weighed in.   

It hasn't all been beer-bashing. Mark Cuban pushed back and said corporate America should all go woke, as it is better for business. Garth Brooks came to the rescue and supported the brand, saying he would serve it in his bar and welcomed anyone who wanted to have a good time there - in a safe, supportive environment. Other voices are still stepping up in support. However, with each who do, they also become part of the social outcry.

Bud Light x Cancel CulturePhoto Credit: Getty Images

Where It Went To Hell

There is no rule book to understand what to do here. No beer brand, or ANY consumer brand, has lost that high market share in just hours. 

The partnership did not work as intended because it sparked a divisive reaction among consumers, negatively impacted sales and brand image, and missed the chance to communicate positive messaging about diversity and inclusivity. The controversy surrounding the collaboration overshadowed potential benefits and highlighted the complexities of navigating social issues in brand partnerships and marketing. 

Bud Light said: "We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer."

They needed to add: "We support all people - your brothers, sisters, children, mothers, fathers, and friends regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity" with the implication "just as you should too." 

Let's take a look at where it did go wrong as the partnership between Bud Light and Dylan Mulvaney did not work as intended for several reasons:

  • Conservative Backlash: The main reason for the partnership's failure was the intense conservative backlash it received. Drag queens and gender transitioning are currently an unfortunate political hot topic in multiple states. Many conservatives took offense at the association, viewing it as a political statement and an endorsement of progressive values. This led to calls for a boycott of Bud Light and its products from a significant segment of the consumer base.
  • Lack of Support in Response: Bud Light's response to the boycott calls were seen as inadequate by both sides of the controversy. While conservatives expected the brand to address their concerns and support their values, Bud Light's response lacked explicit consent for Mulvaney or the LGBTQ+ community. At the same time, supporters of the LGBTQ+ community were disappointed that the brand did not stand up for its partnership and instead appeared to cave into conservative pressure. Even Bud Light's marketers were put out to pasture. They did not support their people—a major failure. Ultimately, Anheuser-Busch's executive team cowed to the social uprise of haters and lost support from those who may have rallied behind the brand if they had offered strong support to ALL beer drinkers. Had they made that statement, people would have stepped up and stepped in to replace the loss of revenue. Bud Light made a grave error in not standing up for themselves. They were wishy-washy when they should have stood proud and true behind the brand and their people – including their marketing team and the influencer who went through this hell with them. They tossed out their couple and ultimately lost the respect of many of their non-hater consumer base. 
  • Negative Impact on Sales: The boycott and controversy significantly impacted Bud Light's sales. The brand's stock price declined by over 18%, and its sales dropped three months later. Bud Light suffered financial losses and damage to its reputation. Will it fully recover? Probably not to the full power of where they once stood. Or at least not for some time.
  • Damage to Brand Image: The controversy and conservative boycott damaged Bud Light's brand image. Some consumers perceived the brand as wavering and lacking conviction, while others viewed it as insensitive to the LGBTQ+ community. This led to a loss of trust and loyalty among specific segments of Bud Light's customer base.
  • Missed Opportunity for Positive Messaging: The partnership with Dylan Mulvaney allowed Bud Light to promote diversity and inclusivity. However, due to the controversy and backlash, the brand could not effectively convey its intended message of supporting social causes and connecting with a broader audience.

The partnership did not work as intended because it sparked a divisive reaction among consumers, negatively impacted sales and brand image, and missed the chance to communicate positive messaging about diversity and inclusivity. The controversy surrounding the collaboration overshadowed potential benefits and highlighted the complexities of navigating social issues in brand partnerships and marketing.

Bud Light x Dylan MulvaneyPhoto Credit: Patrick Mcdermott/ Rob Kim/ Getty Images

But Wait, There's Enough Hatred To Share! 

Bud Light isn't the only brand that has faced a boycott in the last year over LGBTQ+ support.

  1. Target: Faced backlash from conservatives for its vocal support of the LGBTQ+ community. Videos emerged of angry conservatives destroying Pride-related merchandise and calling for a boycott of the store.
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: Faced scrutiny for inviting The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an LGBTQ+ human rights group that parodies Catholic nuns, to its Pride Night. Some conservatives deemed the group "anti-Catholic," leading to a boycott call.
  3. Kohl's: Experienced a backlash after conservatives took offense at a onesie for babies that featured several people of color holding up a pride flag. The controversy centered around their support of LGBTQ+ initiatives.
  4. Chick-fil-A: Surprisingly, faced a boycott suggestion from some conservatives after hiring a Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Known for its anti-LGBTQ+ stance in the past, this move was viewed as a shift in approach. How dare they try to improve.
  5. The North Face: Faced criticism over a promotional campaign featuring social media drag queen Pattie Gonia. Some conservatives called for a boycott due to The North Face's pro-LGBTQ+ stance.
  6. Adidas and Nike: Both brands faced small-scale outcries due to their involvement in Pride activities. Some conservatives expressed disapproval of brands supporting LGBTQ+ rights.
  7. Ben & Jerry's: Received calls for a boycott from some conservatives due to its support of progressive causes, including LGBTQ+ rights.
  8. Cracker Barrel: This Southern brand, known for its Christian values, faced a small-scale boycott due to its perceived support of seemingly progressive values. Yes. Cracker Barrel, too, got an outpouring of hatred after publishing a Facebook post celebrating June as Pride Month. The image included a picture of a rocking chair painted in rainbow color with the text "We are excited to celebrate Pride Month with our employees and guests," the restaurant posted. "Everyone is always welcome at our table (and our rocker). Happy Pride!" They got much positive social feedback as well. 
  9. Starbucks: More than 150 Starbucks stores went on strike in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community after the removal of annual Pride decorations, drawing the ire of some conservative groups.
  10. Activision: The video game production company faced criticism from the "anti-woke" crowd after making a public move to combat anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment within its company.

Here are protesters from the Human Rights Campaign chanting against Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy's anti-gay marriage stance in front of a Chick-fil-A food truck in Washington, D.C., in 2012. 

Chick - fil - A x BoycottPhoto Credit: Kainaz Amaria/NPR

What Happens Now?

The case of Bud Light's partnership with influencer Dylan Mulvaney highlights the complexities and potential pitfalls of brand associations in today's social and political landscape. The brand aimed to tap into Mulvaney's large following and demonstrate support for the LGBTQ+ community, but it resulted in a robust conservative backlash and calls for a boycott. Both sides of the controversy saw the brand's response as inadequate, leading to further damage to Bud Light's sales and brand image.

This situation underscores the importance of brands considering the potential implications of their partnerships and messaging, especially in sensitive areas like social and political issues. Public perception can quickly shift based on how a brand responds to controversies, and navigating these waters requires a thoughtful and authentic approach.

While some celebrities and brands have redeemed themselves after facing challenges to their image, each case is unique, and there is no guaranteed path to redemption. Sincere apologies, personal growth, and efforts to rebuild trust with the public can play a role, but it also depends on how stakeholders perceive and respond to these efforts.

In today's highly connected and socially conscious world, brands must be mindful of the impact of their actions, partnerships, and messaging on diverse audiences. A single campaign can spread like wildfire across social media, with news sources hungry to fan the flames. Strategic public relations, marketing, and a commitment to core values can help brands weather crises and, in some cases, rebuild their reputation over time.  

We've learned from this that it is crucial for brands to stay true to their values, communicate effectively, and engage authentically with their audience to navigate these challenges successfully. As I said, it's a tough time for brand marketers. 

Eager To Learn More?

As social media evolves, so do celebrity endorsements. Brands must match their values to avoid issues and stay authentic with their audience. If you are interested in learning more about social media, read these additional blogs below!

Want to stay in the know with all things pop culture? Look no further than our Hot in Hollywood newsletter! Each week, we compile a list of the most talked-about moments in the entertainment industry, all for you to enjoy!

New call-to-action