Long Stories Short
- MI5 chief Anne Keast-Butler will become GCHQ’s first female director.
- Actors Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, due to appear in a show called Brother from Another Mother, revealed they could be real brothers after discovering McConaughey’s mother “knew” Harrelson’s father.
- Fashion designer Dame Mary Quant, who epitomised the Swinging Sixties, died aged 93.
No small beer
by Liz Moseley
Bud Light has sparked an all-out (culture) war by paying 26 year-old trans influencer, actress and “Days of Girlhood” TikTok sensation Dylan Mulvaney to promote its beer online.
So what? It’s a cautionary tale – or, perhaps, a new blueprint – for so-called “legacy” brands battling inflationary pressures and new competitors to build relevance and protect market share with online audiences increasingly riven by politics.
In short. Bud Light sent Mulvaney a special customised can to mark the one-year anniversary of their gender transition, the story of which has racked up a cool billion views on TikTok. Mulvaney’s innocuous Bud Light chat, duly posted to their 1.8 million Instagram followers with the hashtag #budlightpartner, so angered former Confederate flag waver and ageing musician Kid Rock he donned his baby blue Maga cap and filmed himself opening fire on several crates of the beer in his garden.
Bud Light is America’s best-selling beer brand, accounting for just over 10 per cent of the market by volume. A stalwart of the famed Superbowl advertising spots – including a memorable collab with Game of Thrones in 2019 – Bud Light has a long-established marketing pedigree. Its owner, Anheuser-Busch InBev, boasts that 2022 was “a marquee year for our brands and marketing teams,” despite posting a drop in beer volume sales for Q4 2022 of 0.9 per cent.
Meet Alissa Heinerscheid, the 38 year-old hotshot new vice president of marketing for Bud Light. A fan of Brene Brown and watching cake decorating videos on Instagram, she’s a graduate of Wharton business school, a cancer survivor and, since last July, the first woman ever to land the big Bud Light gig. She told the Make Yourself at Home podcast just days before the Mulvaney storm blew up, “this brand is in decline, it’s been in a decline for a really long time, and if we do not attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand, there will be no future for Bud Light.” Her idea is to rid Bud Light of its “fratty, out of touch humour” and instead “have a campaign which was truly inclusive”. Hence the Mulvaney tie-up. In marketing, inclusivity is not just political, it’s commercial.
By the numbers
$974 million – Bud Light US annual sales value to March 2023 (down 0.4 per cent from the previous year).
1o million – Dylan Mulvaney’s followers on TikTok.
5.5 – per cent, the fall in AB InBev stock price between 6 April and 13 April.
Influencer marketing is not the wild west (anymore). A Superbowl ad spot costs $7 million, a sponsored post with a high-profile influencer perhaps tens of thousands. Lower budget can mean less scrutiny, but Scott Guthrie, director general at the Influencer Marketing Trade Body, says that’s changing as the discipline matures. “Brand safety is an important element of influencer marketing collaborations now,” he says. In other words, Bud Light will have gone into this with their eyes wide open.
But the internet is as wild as ever. A video showing a steamroller crushing crates of beer has racked up over 4 million views and delighted Bud Light loyalists – but was actually filmed in Mexico last February. An article claiming AB InBev had fired Bud Light’s entire marketing team as a result of the Mulvaney storm was widely shared but isn’t true. The official @budlight Twitter account has gone quiet since 2 April – the replies to its last post make for pretty bleak reading.
Has it worked sales-wise? It’s too early to say. US trade publication Beer Business Daily has reported that some distributors have been “spooked” by the kerfuffle and early wholesale data suggests Bud Light “took a volume hit in some markets over the holiday weekend, particularly in rural areas.”
Make Like Nike. Remember the teeth-gnashing and trainer-burning over Nike’s 2018 campaign starring Colin Kaepernick? That all worked out OK in the end. “In the past, we’ve seen brands take short-term hits for longer-term gains by living their values,” says Guthrie, and with Kaepernick “social media engagement rose. Brand equity rose. Crucially, sales rose (by circa 30 per cent).” Indeed, Nike has proven itself a socio-political shock absorber time and again, so nobody should be surprised that it engaged Mulvaney to plug a sports bra on Instagram last week, kicking off a whole other round of controversy.
It’s just a beer, people. All brands, even those built up over 40 years with many millions in advertising spend, are malleable. AB InBev’s ambition to “evolve and elevate” their number one beer to woo younger drinkers makes sense. The Mulvaney activity has certainly made noise. Whether it drives sales is yet to be seen.
(News in brief)
The One Where Everyone Talked
As if Rupert Murdoch didn’t have enough on his plate with the Dominion/Fox News lawsuit, Jerry Hall has been showing the world that however private you want to keep relationships, there are always friends who talk. In Hall’s case, they’ve been talking to Vanity Fair magazine, confiding that Rupert apparently broke his back after being pushed into a piano by ex-wife Wendi Deng (Deng did not respond to Vanity Fair‘s request for comment), was spoon-fed by Hall while pretending he was well enough to work, tore his Achilles tendon tripping over the box of a chessboard, asked her to take winemaking classes so he could write off $3 million in vineyard expenses and left surveillance cameras running in the Oxfordshire home she received in the divorce. Friends report Hall was stunned to see him dating Ann Lesley Smith – they’d met a year earlier and Hall didn’t think anything amiss even when Smith offered to give Murdoch a teeth clean. Friends also say Murdoch insisted she not leak plot ideas to the Succession writing team as a condition of the divorce. Although perhaps her friends did.
Duo of dreams
Another week, another blockbuster exhibition for the V&A – and another triumph for Chair Sir Nicholas Coleridge (former leader of Conde Nast publishing group) and Director Tristram Hunt, whom Coleridge appointed in 2017. Divas, celebrating the power and creativity of trailblazing performers including Maria Callas, Barbra Streisand and Sir Elton John opens on 24 June. Coleridge explained: “At the V&A it is all about the balance between blockbusters and more niche shows.” Indeed, the more scholarly “Donatello: Sculpting the Renaissance” (until 11 June) was declared by international art magazine Apollo to be “the most significant [exhibition] of the year anywhere on earth”. Alice Cole, editor of The Art Newspaper said, “Nicholas and Tristram have brought extra sparkle and glamour to the V&A. They’re both very charming, great with donors and offer an eclectic, genuinely multi-cultural mix of exhibitions.” The dynamic duo have also overseen the redevelopment of 40 galleries, and an ambitious multi-site expansion plan – this July the new Young V&A opens in Bethnal Green followed by V&A East in 2025. Coleridge will step down as Chair in October. Big shoes to fill.
Who is… Jai Paul
Pop’s most mysterious artist
It will take a lot to overshadow Frank Ocean’s first live show in six years. But this weekend a record producer from Rayners Lane, London, might do just that. Jai Paul is an enigma: an artist from the Myspace era who released two demos to critical acclaim, then disappeared off the face of the earth. This happened in 2013, when some of his unfinished tracks leaked online and caused him to have what he described as a “breakdown of sorts”. But now he’s back, performing his first live show at Coachella, one of the biggest festivals in the world. It’s testament to his reverence and reputation that he has the same poster billing as Charli XCX and the Chemical Brothers, even though he’s only ever released a handful of completed songs. But it’s well deserved. His music has been sampled by the likes of Drake and Beyonce, and it has profoundly shaped the sound of electronic pop and R&B today. Now is his moment.
It tickled us
This guy is on Fyre
Billy McFarland, the conman behind the disastrous Fyre Festival – infamous for toppled portaloos, school bus transportation and serving soggy cheese sarnies to guests expecting a luxury weekend in the Bahamas – set rumours of a sequel alight via Twitter on Monday. The return of the festival appears to be part of McFarland’s plan to pay back the $26 million dollars he owes investors, but memories of the first attempt – which led to a four-year stint in prison for McFarland – have still not been quenched. Responses to McFarland’s tweet “Tell me why you should be invited” included “I’ll just wait for the documentaries” and “Because I hate myself.”
Thank you and farewell
Life in plastic, not fantastic
Tupperware’s gloomy warnings of its demise sent shockwaves through suburbia this week. Earl Tupper’s iconic food storage container, launched in 1946, is more than just a plastic tub with a burping seal – it’s a symbol of post-war consumerism. Brownie Wise, a divorcee with a son to support, devised the direct-to-consumer home parties in 1950 and Tupperware boomed – inspiring, among others, that pioneering purveyor of plastic, Anne Summers. The queen even kept her cereal in one. A Tupperware container, that is. This model justified a price premium that online selling can’t support. Sales have been falling for 10 years thanks to competition from eco-friendly glass and steel containers plus plastic rivals. Statistics from Tupperware in 2018 showed that 94 per cent of its distributors made an average of £520 per year. The lockdown rush to stockpile meant younger consumers were already sorted for kitchen storage when the brand started selling through US chain Target in October 2022. Tupperware may be losing the fight for its right to party.
The cost-of-singing crisis
by Stephen Armstrong
Two new operas have their UK premiere in London this week, telling radical stories as opera itself faces a radical threat. Innocence, at the Royal Opera House, follows a wedding party thrown ten years after a school shooting with the events of the earlier tragedy haunting the feast, while Blue, at the ENO’s Coliseum, recounts the family crisis when the son of a black police officer is gunned down at a political protest. Both use the power and range of opera to heighten emotion. Sofi Oksanen’s Innocence, directed by Simon Stone, features a ghostly victim using traditional Finnish folk vocal techniques to sing high, reedy notes as she haunts the room. In Blue, themes based on jazz, musical theatre and spirituals rise and fall in leitmotifs. The thunderous pain of the funeral scene has the majesty of a cathedral choir. Ironically, these modern, diverse operas are exactly what the Arts Council wants – just not from these companies.
So what? This is the last year the UK will see opera like this. This week, the ENO finalised its survival deal with the Arts Council. The company will apply for £24 million on top of the £11.46 million it was granted in January while it comes up with a new business model combining, according to CEO Stuart Murphy, opera in theatres and found spaces outside London as well as big opera in the Coliseum. In 1992, chief secretary to the treasury David Mellor, a keen opera buff, paid £14 million to buy the Coliseum for the nation. It would take an act of Parliament to sell the place.
The ACE cuts are the deepest. Last year’s cuts by Arts Council England reduced opera subsidies by 22 per cent, cut Welsh National Opera and Glyndebourne’s touring budgets while making ENO a touring company. The Royal Opera House lost 10 per cent of its annual £24.8 million subsidy. In January the ROH ended its 33-year sponsorship deal with BP. The French government subsidy to the Opéra Ballet, one of four opera companies in Paris, is £90 million, three times what the whole British opera sector will receive next year.
Brexit still hurts. Designer Antony McDonald, who won an Olivier Award last week for his work on Royal Opera’s Alcina, told the Stage Brexit had done “terrible damage” to his art form, preventing musicians and singers crossing the Channel in both directions. RoH needs 300 extra Certificates of Sponsorship per season with visas for longer stays and emergency last-minute cast changes, increasing costs.
You’ll Pay for This. Roughly 4 per cent of the population go to the opera in a year, the largest group being young, well-educated professionals from wealthy areas. Analysis by The Times found opera companies receive more funding per ticket sold than theatre – in 2017/18 Birmingham Opera received £173 for each of the 1,899 tickets it sold compared to the RSC’s £14.
The Fat Lady Costs. “It’s monstrous the amount of money it costs to put on a big opera – there’s no way around having an orchestra and a chorus, lots of rehearsal, sets and costumes,” says Rupert Christiansen, former opera critic for The Daily Telegraph.
Grass roots? ACE increased funding to small companies and demanded opera “in car parks, in pubs… on your tablet.” These are all currently available. The fastest growing area is the country house opera, with ten companies putting on an annual season including Garsington Opera, Grange Park Opera and Nevill Holt Opera, mostly funded by private donors and high ticket prices. Christiansen retired because “opera is sliding towards the end, and I found it depressing.”
(Reviews in brief)
Richard III, Liverpool Playhouse to 22 April; Rose Theatre, Kingston upon Thames, 26 April to 13 May
From car park exhumations in Leicester to Ian McKellen driving Soviet tanks through Battersea Power Station, Richard III is the gift that keeps on giving. The king’s latest outing sees Bridgerton’s Adjoa Andoh dive deeper than most. Growing up in the Cotswolds in the 1970s, the black actor mines a human conundrum: is evil inherent or a disease that infects you after a life of prejudice and othering?
Could Richard’s crimes have been averted with a little more TLC from his family? It’s hard not to see parallels with the febrile affairs of our present-day royals. Warring brothers. A new king. An estranged prince proclaiming the king’s wife is “that monstrous witch” all feel squeamishly, powerfully of the moment.
Andoh’s folk-horror take shines new light on this tale. However, while it may go some way to explaining them, exonerating Richard III’s life choices is a rebranding exercise too far.
Death Under a Little Sky by Stig Abell (HarperCollins 13 April)
This is a lockdown novel hiding behind a detective thriller. The frenetic Mr Abell headed the Press Complaints Commission, was managing editor of the Sun newspaper and now presents Times Radio’s breakfast show, writing his first novel during Covid. His detective, Jake, retires from the police, his marriage and modern life when he inherits a house, Little Sky, on the condition he lives in it. Jake ups sticks and moves to a rural village so isolated there is no mobile signal. Abell captures the quiet, slow-moving world around Little Sky with the devotion of a country house murder fan – the young woman’s bones are even discovered during a village treasure hunt. It’s both cosy and arch, with Little Sky’s library full of detective fiction. The book is clearly set up as a franchise in the Richard Osman style and should succeed just as effectively.
Keep Your Courage, Natalie Merchant (Nonesuch)
Natalie Merchant’s latest album is a lyric-driven return to the misty stares and husky vocals of classic 90s Birkenstock-rock. Which isn’t exactly surprising. Since going solo nearly 30 years ago, the former 10,000 Maniacs front woman keeps it consistent. But who can blame her? Not many have been blessed with the vocal ability to convey the deeper meaning behind universal topics like grief, loss and love. And there is a certain joy in listening closely enough to catch lyrics like: “Your Rilke poems and stacks of Mother Jones / your feminist rage and your Didion shades”. This album will not win her new fans. But for the committed legions who still swear by their Tigerlily cassette, it’ll be like a long hug from an old friend.
The News Meeting Live
For those who take pleasure in watching three journalists squirm under pressure, next week sees the first ever live edition of The News Meeting. Liz Moseley, Giles Whittell and special guest Rosie Holt will pitch the stories they think matter most to Tortoise editor James Harding in front of a studio audience. Expect heated debate, snarky comments and friendly backstabbing. Catch up on previous episodes here or subscribe to the Tortoise YouTube channel to watch the extended edition with added arguments. Tickets to the live recording are sold out but you can hear the episode from Friday 21 April wherever you get your podcasts.
This week: The soundtrack to Trump’s day in court
At a Tortoise pace
In February, Sebastian Hervas-Jones, 24, jacked in his job as a Tortoise reporter, binned his smart phone and set off on a renovated narrowboat to spend 365 days discovering Britain. This is week seven.
A few days ago, I arrived in a small village, met a man in the pub and he told me the story of the strange fire in a large estate house at the top of the hill. This massive mansion – with a walled garden, stables and collection of paintings – burned down many years ago. The newspapers said it was an electrical fault, but this man seemed to think differently…” The old security guard used to come to the pub and said he’d been warned to move his car in case anything should happen…” As the night continued, and more pints were drunk, the story grew more fantastic and unbelievable. It all got me thinking about the way stories spread, told hundreds – maybe thousands – of times, developing, morphing and growing increasingly wild and exciting. I might pay that house a visit…
You can read more of Seb’s letters “home” here.
for your diary
20 April — The Motive and the Cue opens at the National Theatre. Sam Mendes directs the play based on the making of Burton and Gielgud’s production of Hamlet.
30 April — American country music band The Chicks, formerly Dixie Chicks, kick off their world tour in Los Angeles, heading across the pond for six dates in June and July.
19 May – Israeli chef Eyal Shani opens his new restaurant Lilienblum at 80 City Road, Old Street Yard, London EC1Y 1BD with a menu divided by ingredients rather than starters and mains.
20 May — Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary, the V&A’s retrospective of the late fashion designer, begins a six-month display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow.
7 June – 7 July — Shakespeare in the Squares stages the playwright’s Twelfth Night in 22 public garden squares across London.
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Editor: Jane Bruton
Contributions from Sophie Fenton, Xavier Greenwood, David Lloyd, Dolly Martin, Mark St. Andrew and Sara Weissel
Photographs courtesy Getty Images, Jai Paul/Instagram, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Jean Louis Fernandez/ROH, Manuel Harlan, Tom Pilston for Tortoise Media