The BrewDog brand has gone from strength to strength since it was started “by two men and a dog” in 2007. If you’d have asked me for a craft beer back in 2007 you’d have received a blank look and a Peroni. Cut to 2020 and craft beer choices (specifically those made by BrewDog) are commonplace in almost every shop, bar, pub and restaurant, and I’ve got a pretty decent selection in my fridge. BrewDog have been the loudest, proudest and most controversial craft beer brand during that time, and it is certainly easy to argue that they were the originators of the ‘craft beer revolution’ in the UK. They’ve had a fair amount of stick online over the years, and they certainly seem to me to be the epitome of a ‘love them or hate them’ brand. So, let’s explore why that is the case.
Stunts & Reactive Marketing
You have probably heard about the new beer that BrewDog released during the Covid-19 pandemic, which mocked Dominic Cummings and his trip to visit his family in Durham from London, ignoring his own Governments’ advice, whilst he was infected with the highly contagious virus. The beer, named “Barnard Castle Eye Test” was voted on by James Watt’s Twitter followers, with other options including ‘260 Miles’ and ‘Cummings & Goings’. Although clearly a great way to keep the public talking about BrewDog, and making their feelings on the matter known, they also donated all profits from the sale of the beer to “funding our production of free sanitiser for the NHS & Health Care Charities”.
This certainly isn’t the first time that a very clever BrewDog stunt has gone viral. They latch on to whatever is capturing the public interest at the time and chime in (usually in a big way) with their ‘punk’ response. Their stunts have ranged from creating a Viagra beer with the tagline ‘Arise Prince Willy’ to celebrate Kate & Will’s wedding, to brewing the strongest beer in the world at 55% which was bottled inside taxidermy animals, to driving a tank down Camden high street, and they’ve projected their naked bodies onto the Houses of Parliament ala Gail Porter. As you can see, they are the shy and retiring type.
BrewDog & Craft Beer Purists
BrewDog are certainly a brand who make a stir, but being bold and outlandish can also have an adverse effect on consumers. An article in The Guardian from 2016 sums it up better than I ever could:
“BrewDog embodies, in short, much about modern life that many people love to hate, particularly online and almost certainly beneath this article: you don’t have to search far to find someone on the internet calling BrewDog “hipsters”, “pretentious”, “wankers”, “arseholes” or simply “full of shit”. In the small but passionate world of British beer nerds, few subjects arouse stronger feelings than BrewDog: “an instinctively repulsive … operation of expanding beards and stupidly named gaseous beverages”, as one blogger put it.”
That said, bringing craft beer to the masses is what they do very well, and although it may irritate the craft bear purists, their risky marketing strategies and stunts have enabled them to grow to a company valued at over £1.8billion.
BrewDog & Their Response To Covid-19
As well as the ‘Barnard Castle Eye Test’ beer, BrewDog have been keeping themselves busy (aka in the public eye) during lockdown. You may have been one of thousands who joined one of their free online ‘virtual pubs’ called The BrewDog Open Arms. You could do a pub quiz, watch live music or get stuck into some of your home delivered craft beers in an online tasting session. As much as you can say these are self serving events (they are a business after all) they were genuinely appreciated by thousands of people who would otherwise have been very very bored. They certainly saved me from having to resort to doing a jigsaw.
If you didn’t attend one of their events, you may have signed up to their mailing list due to the excellent ‘Free Beer When This Is All Over’ campaign.
The link for this offer was going around quicker than a particularly witty meme. People love free beer, and that made people love BrewDog. I’d absolutely love to know how many people’s email addresses they got due to this campaign.
In a more serious contribution to the pandemic, BrewDog also stopped beer production at their distillery in Aberdeen in order to make hand sanitiser, and has given it away to local charities and their local community for free. There was some further publicity around the fact that the initial batch they sent wasn’t quite up to medical standards, although they did distribute 100,000 bottles of sanitiser to groups including the Archie Foundation and Aberlour children’s charities.
James Watt & The Recruitment Industry
You may have seen the backlash from recruiters about James Watt’s post on LinkedIn (pictured below).
Many recruiters were clearly deeply offended by his comments, which he later deleted. The deletion came too late (screenshots live forever) and as the topic starting trending, many recruiters vowed never to drink BrewDog beer again.
I wonder if this comment by James was to reignite a flame he’d started back in 2016, when there was a similar social media storm around his role on a show called “Who’s the boss?” which he himself called ‘a disaster’.
The show is supposed to allow all members of staff in a company be a part of the recruitment process, as opposed to just the senior management. From articles I’ve read about the BrewDog appearance, James didn’t think that any of the candidates were qualified for the position originally advertised, and changed the role part way through the show, resulting in 2 of the candidates dropping out of the process altogether, and the eventual ‘winner’ of the role not even accepting the job. Eeek.
When I dug a little deeper through the LinkedIn comments, I also found out about the #WrongedByBrewDog campaign, started by an American marketer called Jenny Frankart who went through a 5 month interview process, where she, in her words “submitted idea after idea, flew out for my fourth interview, with James Watt of BrewDog, only to be blown off.”
I found out that other marketeers and an ad agency had also claimed they’d had saying that they’d had a similar experience. There were plenty of marketeers vowing to follow in the recruitment industries footsteps (away from BrewDog bars) and not buy any more BrewDog beer. Two industries which are quite well known for their love of a good few bevvies…
Although a bit of a PR disaster, I doubt any of these social media storms have made any kind of significant impact in their revenue or their perception amongst their target audience.
To sum up, BrewDog are a brand that thrive on campaigns that will piss people off, and which are divisive, and it’s this exact ‘punk’ behaviour that has made them so successful and so appealing to their loyal customers. In fact, this could potentially be a brand where the phrase ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ might be pretty accurate. I for one can’t wait to see what stunts they come up with next, and I applaud them on being brave and bold in days where so many companies are so terrified to put a foot out of line that they end up bland and boring.