Busch Beer’s 350k Donation To Iowa Kids Hospital Yields Iowa Hatred

Two roads diverged in a Hawkeye-yellow wood, and Busch Beer will be very sorry they traveled the wrong one. It’s a monumental communications blunder destined to go down in PR history. Days after dubbing local Iowan, Carson King, a “Legend,” donating 350k to an Iowa children’s hospital, Busch Beer severed ties with him reminiscent of a junior high break up. Their knee jerk reaction, fueled by emotions and zero critical thinking was met with unparalleled anger from Iowans.

In case you missed it, Busch Beer, likely Iowa’s favorite canned libation, hit the PR motherload when King held up a sign on nationally televised College Gameday, asking for people to Venmo him beer money. To his surprise, people donated, prompting him to pledge the money to Stead Children’s Hospital at the University of Iowa. And that’s when Busch Beer hit gold.

Carson King Busch Beer Can
Carson King Busch Beer Can

Busch Beer and Venmo both offered to match donations, and before long, King crossed the one million dollar mark. Busch ended up committing $350,000, also offering to deliver a year’s supply of beer with “Iowa Legend” under an illustration of King’s face—but the gates of brand hell were about to break loose.


Busch Beer Cuts Ties With Carson King

At the peak of Iowa’s best feel-good story since the Iowa Wave, King called a press-conference apologizing for Tweets he wrote when he was a child. He explained a reporter from The Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper (to which I’ve contributed), found “racist tweets” in a “routine background check” as they were writing a profile. It was then announced Busch Beer had cut ties with King. That single reaction, proved detrimental. 


Busch Beer Lights $350,000 on fire.

As if their corn syrup debacle wasn’t enough, Busch Beer watched the entire state of Iowa turn on them in one of the most spectacular brand debacles most of us will see in our lifetime.

Busch Beer began deleting all tweets referencing Carson King as Iowan’s began digging through the brand’s past, intent on holding the brand to the same standards they apparently held King to. It didn’t take long.

By morning Iowan’s found not only past seemingly racist ads from Busch Beer’s parent company, Anheuser Busch, they found the company had sponsored the very programming and content King had referenced in his tweet, Tosh.0. 


Venmo Takes The Path Less Traveled

Venmo saw the exact same scenario, but their path diverged as they re-affirmed their support for King. “Our intent has never changed, and we continue to honor our pledge to support the patients, families and staff members of the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics,” Venmo affirmed.

Venmo chose to wait and understand the facts, instead of reacting like an hormone-driven junior high kid. They chose to stay beside their fund-raising partner regardless of what people might think. The moral high-ground paid off.

Support for King and the children’s hospital continue to rise, with donations expected to cross 2 million dollars. And now, not only is Busch Beer still on the hook for this 350k donation, but they’re now on the outside looking in, failing to benefit from the very PR success they created. A sincere apology to King is the only way they can stop the bleeding.

Two roads diverged, and their emotions got the better of them. That has made all the difference.

Justin Brady is a writer, radio host and works with emerging tech clients on comms / PR giving them a national platform. Sign up below to receive a condensed resource newsletter.



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Justin Brady is a writer, radio host and works with emerging tech clients on comms / PR giving them a national platform. Sign up below to receive a condensed resource newsletter.