Senator Ted Cruz is calling for an investigation of Bud Light’s brand partnership with Dylan Mulvaney amid a multi-week uproar over a branded post the company presented with the transgender social media influencer.
In a joint letter to Anheuser-Busch CEO and Beer Institute Chairman Brendan Whitworth obtained by Newsweek, the Texas Republican joined with Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn asking Whitworth and the Beer Institute’s Code Compliance Review Board to open an investigation to review the company’s marketing partnership with Mulvaney over concerns the company “violated the Beer Institute’s Advertising/Marketing Code and Buying Guidelines prohibiting marketing to individuals younger than the legal drinking age.”
While the senators didn’t cite specific demographic data for Mulvaney, the senators argue that Instagram and TikTok skew heavily toward younger audiences and that Mulvaney—who is 26—produces content largely tailored toward younger audiences, thereby creating an environment in which any alcohol-related content would be seen by younger people.
Though the Bud Light partnership was shared on Instagram, a leaked presentation cited in the senators’ letter about TikTok user demographics showed approximately 17 percent of platform users are ages 13 to 17 while 42 percent are 18 to 24—figures they said made it more than likely Mulvaney’s content would be seen by young people.
But the senators also raised past comments by Alissa Heinerscheid, Bud Light’s former vice president of marketing, who said, “If we do not attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand there will be no future for Bud Light,” as an alleged sign the company was willfully marketing to minors.
Though the evidence was largely circumstantial, the senators argued both platforms’ demographic data “overwhelmingly shows” Mulvaney’s audience skewed significantly younger than the legal drinking age, thereby violating the Beer Institute’s Advertising/Marketing Code and Buying Guidelines, which specifies advertising placements may only be made in settings where at least 73.6 percent of the audience is expected to be adults of legal drinking age.
“The general demographics of Instagram and TikTok, combined with the pre-pubescent content for girls pushed by Dylan Mulvaney, and informed by comments from Anheuser-Busch’s VP for Marketing regarding young drinkers, should have provided overwhelming evidence to the Beer Institute that Anheuser-Busch’s sponsored social media influencer advertising had both the design and effect of marketing an adult beverage product to an audience whose composition was less than 73.6% individuals of legal drinking age, thus violating the standards required by the Beer Institute,” the letter argues.
Newsweek has reached out to both senators’ offices for comment.
Cruz and Blackburn requested that the Beer Institute and Anheuser-Busch furnish all documents related to the brand partnership, including copies of all materials in the possession of Anheuser-Busch showing the age demographics of Mulvaney’s audience.
Newsweek has reached out to the Beer Institute and Anheuser-Busch for comment. However, the business of alcohol advertising has long been under scrutiny.
In the early 1990s, members of Congress sought to require warnings in advertisements on the dangers of drinking alcohol and pushing to ban television ads for beer, prompting brands like Anheuser-Busch to threaten to pull their sponsorship deals with sports teams that, at the time, accounted for a double-digit share of national television revenues.
A 2006 research brief by the Rand Institute found alcohol advertisements in other platforms—including magazines tailored to adults like Newsweek and Playboy—contributed to heightened levels of underage alcohol consumption, even in advertisements tailored to adults, resulting in the think tank recommending a re-evaluation of alcohol advertising venues and methods.
The ethics of advertising alcohol and other vices on newer digital platforms have also garnered scrutiny.
More recently, groups like Truth in Advertising found more than 1,700 Instagram advertisements from the alcohol brand Ciroc published across 50 different social media accounts in which the influencers “failed to disclose their material connection to the brand in a clear and conspicuous manner,” while other studies have shown junk food companies largely tailoring their sponsored content primarily toward influencers with younger audiences on platforms like Instagram.