Those loveable bad boys of brewing, BrewDog, have just launched the UK’s first Twitter-sourced beer: #MashTag
This ’democratic brown ale’ was created after the brand’s Twitter followers, Facebook fans and blog readers voted on the individual elements that would come together to make the new brew; including the alcohol level, bitterness and style. Even the label was sourced from a design submitted online.
This level of public engagement is nothing new to BrewDog.
The company has just launched a second round of investment: what it calls ‘Equity for punks’. 42,000 shares have been made available at £95 each. Predictions are that the brand’s devotees will snap them up.
BrewDog already has 7,000 so-called ‘Punk investors’. And these investors not only believe in the merits of BrewDog as a business – they love its products. Buy just one share and you get a lifetime discount in its bars and online shop. These investors are more than just portfolio pundits, they’re brand ambassadors: that’s a lot of word-of-mouth marketing. So it should hardly come as a surprise to discover that this six-year-old business has a £20m turnover and is the UK’s fastest-growing food & drink business. Tasty.
Another reason for BrewDog’s success is its eschewing of traditional marketing techniques. James Watt, one of the founders, was asked why he doesn’t spend money on advertising. His reply? “I’d rather set my money on fire.” How very BrewDog.
But BrewDog’s lack of advertising doesn’t mean it has little in the way of profile. Far from it. BrewDog’s launch of its ‘End of History’ ale had animal lovers and activists up in arms.
Bottles of this 55% super-strong ale were packaged inside the bodies of seven dead stoats, four dead squirrels and one dead hare. In the words of BrewDog founder James Watt ”…we’ve torn up convention, blurred distinctions and pushed brewing and beer packaging to its absolute limits. This is the beer to end all beers. It’s an audacious blend of eccentricity, artistry and rebellion; changing the general perception of beer, one stuffed animal at a time.” Unlikely you’ll ever read that on a Diageo press release.
Another beer that caused a right royal rumpus was ‘Royal Virility Performance’.
This 7.5% ABV beer went on sale to coincide with the wedding of William and Kate. BrewDog released it to “…take the wheels off the royal wedding bandwagon being jumped on by dozens of breweries”. It certainly did that. Containing horny goat weed, chocolate and Viagra, it was deemed by many to be tasteless. But then they probably didn’t even try it.
Now some might say that BrewDog, for all the column inches it generates, is merely a pimple on the bottom of the big drinks companies. They couldn’t be more wrong. After last year’s British Institute of Innkeeping Awards night, Diageo was forced to issue an “unreserved” apology to BrewDog after it came to light that it had blackmailed the awards organisation into not awarding BrewDog the ‘Bar Operator of the Year’ award.
How this extraordinarily crass and ill-considered PR cock-up unfolded is best described by Kenny Mitchell, Chairman of the Award Committee: “Diageo (the main sponsor) approached us at the start of the meal and said under no circumstances could the award be given to BrewDog. They said if this happened they would pull their sponsorship from all future BII events and their representatives would not present any of the awards on the evening. We were gobsmacked by Diageo’s behaviour. We made the wrong decision under extreme pressure. We were blackmailed and bullied by Diageo. We should have stuck to our guns and gave the award to BrewDog.”
BrewDog, in their inimitable style, exposed the scandal on Twitter (but where else) with the hashtag #AndTheWinnerIsNot
It went on to trend worldwide.
I will spare Diageo’s blushes by not printing their press release in full, but I will tell you that it did include the following words: serious, misjudgement, apologise, unreservedly and error. I think you get the gist of it.
But poor old Diageo has got more to worry about than BrewDog snapping at its heels. In fact all the large beer producers have not been having a fun time of it of late. Traditional beer and lager sales are suffering from brewer’s droop. To counter this, some of the world’s biggest brewing companies, national brewers, publicans, retailers and the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) have got together to fund the multi-million pound ‘Let there be Beer’ marketing campaign.
As well as having a presence on both Facebook and Twitter, RKCR/Y&R have created a 60-second TV ad to get the campaign rolling.
Ironically, this contrived, charmless ad, with its catch-all targeting – middle-aged dads, young professional women and teenagers – is the very reason drinkers are abandoning big beer brands. By trying desperately hard to communicate something to everyone, it ends up saying nothing to no one. No wonder drinkers are searching out craft beers – they want brands that genuinely understand them. Which gives me the perfect segue into my final quote: