Sen. Cruz Dials In On Ad Agency That Brokered Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney Partnership

November 28, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The investigation by U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) into the Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney advertising campaign is taking a step forward with a new inquiry of a company that connects advertisers with social media influencers, particularly ones whose target audiences are minors.

In a letter to the CEO of Captiv8, which is the firm that brokered the Bud Light-Mulvaney deal, Ranking Member Cruz is seeking details about the company’s work on the marketing partnership and whether Mulvaney was specifically chosen given his audience skews toward minors. Brewers like Anheuser-Busch commit as part of a self-regulatory code not to advertise alcohol to minors. However, the brewer has obfuscated as to whether or not Mulvaney was chosen because of his appeal to adolescents.

As Sen. Cruz wrote:

Anheuser-Busch evidently reached out to Captiv8 in March after “a Bud Light team member who ‘wanted to push and make change’” conceived of a March Madness post appealing to younger “members of the LGBTQ+ community.”  Captiv8 then “introduced” Anheuser-Busch to Mulvaney,  who was selected over other young influencers like 23-year-old actress Reneé Rapp.  Mulvaney agreed to the deal with Bud Light “a couple of weeks” after celebrating “Day 365 of Girlhood” at Rockefeller Center on March 13th.  Both Captiv8 and Bud Light signed off on the influencer’s now notorious April 1st Instagram reel.  

The fact that Anheuser-Busch sought out Captiv8 to attract young drinkers is not surprising; Captiv8 has positioned itself as a leading agency for influencer marketing, which it calls “the best way to sell to Gen Z.”  Captiv8 highlights the fact that “73% of Gen Z-ers say they would make a purchase based on a social media recommendation.”  The agency has hosted panels on how creators are driving social commerce among Gen Z  and how companies can use influencer marketing to “thoughtfully reach Gen Z audiences.”

It is surprising, however, that Captiv8 signed off on Mulvaney’s April 1st post even though it was neither age gated nor marked with a “paid partnership” label as required by Instagram (and, arguably, the FTC’s endorsement guidelines).  The failure to age gate meant the advertisement was guaranteed to be seen by Mulvaney’s followers, most of whom are under the age of 21. The lack of a paid partnership label on both Mulvaney posts is especially significant given lingering questions about the timing and scope of the influencer’s work for Bud Light. Anheuser-Busch has implausibly maintained that the company’s partnership with Mulvaney consisted of just “one can, one influencer, one post and not a campaign.”  “It was not an advertisement,” insisted AB InBev CEO Michel Doukeris.  Yet Mulvaney appears to have been engaged for two distinct, sports-related campaigns during the Super Bowl and March Madness. The question is, if Captiv8 was enlisted in March, what role could it have had with respect to Mulvaney’s initial, February 11th post?

Anheuser-Busch employed Mulvaney to advertise and market Bud Light on multiple occasions with posts appearing on February 11th and April 1st, with the latter confirmed as brokered by Captiv8. On February 11, 2023, Mulvaney posted a video on Instagram with the caption #budlightpartner, contradicting AB InBev CEO Michel Doukeris’s statement on a May 4, 2023, earnings call that the company’s partnership with Mulvaney consisted of “one can, one influencer, one post and not a campaign.”

The full text of this letter is available HERE.

READ: Sen. Cruz Lays Out Evidence Showing Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney Partnership Aimed at Minors