Dylan Mulvaney Opens Up About Bud Light Controversy: ‘Hiring Trans People Should Not Be Political’


Dylan Mulvaney told Forbes she hopes brands will use her experience as the target of “hate and vitriol” to avoid “performative” inclusive marketing and instead be true allies, in one of her first in-depth interviews since her partnership with Bud Light sparked a boycott on the brand and death threats for Mulvaney that left her “scared to leave my house.”

Key Facts

Mulvaney spoke with Seth Matlins, managing director of the Forbes CMO Network, at the 2023 Forbes CMO Summit in Miami on Tuesday in front of a room of marketing executives about the backlash she’s faced as a transgender spokesperson over the last year.

She urged brands to be inclusive in their marketing and support the talent they recruit to foster a true “connection between the partner and the brand”—something she said she hasn’t experienced in many of her professional relationships.

Simply hiring a trans spokesperson for a campaign isn’t enough to be truly inclusive, she said, adding brands need to push for diversity in the boardroom and on their consulting staff: “If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu,” she said.

Mulvaney called marketing a uniquely powerful way to influence cultural issues, and said brands have to be responsible for their messaging despite the fallout that may come: “Supporting and hiring trans people should not be political, and the people making it out to be— they’re bigots. And we should not let them win.”

Crucial Quote

“If you’re going to ask us to capitalize on our vulnerabilities and our traumas, at least have our backs when the going gets tough,” Mulvaney said.

Key Background

Mulvaney shot to TikTok fame as she detailed her transition in a series called “Days of Girlhood,” which described her coming out, her transition, learning how to use makeup, shopping for clothes, dating and other aspects of her life. She has more than 12 million followers across TikTok and Instagram and has partnered with a number of brands including Aritzia, CeraVe, Crest, Instacart, Kate Spade, Nike, Rent the Runway and Ulta Beauty. Mulvaney became a household name earlier this year when she became one of several influencers to partner with Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser, Stella Artois, Corona and other alcoholic drinks. The company paid her to post a video featuring a Bud Light can with her face on it, sparking a furor on the far right, which criticized the company for being “too woke.” Mulvaney spoke publicly about the backlash in a video in June, when she criticized Bud Light for not reaching out or publicly defending her. She said hiring a trans person and then ignoring the backlash “is worse, in my opinion, than not hiring a trans person at all because it gives customers permission to be as transphobic and hateful as they want.” She said the online vitriol made her feel “personally guilty for what transpired” and left her scared to leave her house. On Tuesday, she said she’s more picky than ever when choosing brands to work with and will pass quickly on opportunities she doesn’t feel are truly supportive.

Big Number

24.6%. That’s how much sales of Bud Light dropped in the wake of the controversy. The brand lost its top spot in the U.S. beer market earlier this year and several bars and restaurants pulled it from their menus.

Surprising Fact

Mulvaney said she’s thought a lot about what a truly inclusive Bud Light campaign would look like, and on Tuesday shared her own idea for a commercial set in a western saloon. She said she envisions a trans woman on the opposite side of the saloon as a famous cowboy walks in, and the camera zooms in as their respective high heels and cowboy boots walk toward one another. As the camera pans out, they crack a beer together with the line “There’s room for all of us beer drinkers in this town.”

Forbes Valuation

Mulvaney was ranked No. 50 on Forbes’ list of top creators this year with estimated earnings of $2 million.

Surprising Fact

Mulvaney was recently given the Suicide Prevention Advocate of the Year Award by the nonprofit Trevor Project. She joins Janelle Monáe and Lil Nas X as a recipient of the award, which is given to those who “champion the LGBTQ community and advocate for mental health awareness.

Further Reading

How Trans TikTok Star Dylan Mulvaney Became A Far-Right Target After Scoring Deals With Bud Light And Nike (Forbes)

Dylan Mulvaney Criticizes Bud Light For Never Reaching Out After Backlash Made Her ‘Scared To Leave My House’ (Forbes)

The New Rise To Fame: Comedians, Actresses And Social Media Mavens Dylan Mulvaney And Grace Kuhlenschmidt Talk TikTok Stardom With Barbie Ferreira (Forbes)

Forbes Top Creators 2023: The Richest On TikTok (Forbes)

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