Branding & Design / Copywriting / PR

Long live the beer brand revolution

Beer brand BrewDog is no stranger to controversy. In fact it thrives on it – or to be more accurate, its sales do.
But even BrewDog must have thought that the game was up when it received an official reprimand from the All Seeing Eye of drinks marketing compliancy that is, The Portman Group.

The Portman Group was particularly upset at the online copy used to market Dead Pony Club –  BrewDog’s latest bottle of ale.


They felt that “the wording ‘rip it up down empty streets’, associated the product with anti-social behaviour.”

Henry Ashworth, Chief Executive of the Portman Group, went on to say,
“The Code rules do not exist to prevent humorous or innovative brand marketing but to make sure that humour is used responsibly. We urge producers to exercise due diligence and consult our Code Advisory Team if they are in any doubt.”

Suitably chastened you may think?
Not a bit of it. BrewDog Co-founder James Watt penned this glorious response:
“On behalf of BrewDog PLC and its 14,691 individual shareholders, I would like to issue a formal apology to the Portman Group for not giving a shit about today’s ruling.

“Indeed, we are sorry for never giving a shit about anything the Portman Group has to say, and treating all of its statements with callous indifference and nonchalance.

“Unfortunately, the Portman Group is a gloomy gaggle of killjoy jobsworths, funded by navel-gazing international drinks giants. Their raison d’être is to provide a diversion for the true evils of this industry, perpetrated by the gigantic faceless brands that pay their wages.

“Blinkered by this soulless mission, they treat beer drinkers like brain-dead zombies and vilify creativity and competition. Therefore, we have never given a second thought to any of the grubby newspeak they disseminate periodically.

“While the Portman Group lives out its days deliberating whether a joke on a bottle of beer is responsible or irresponsible use of humour, at BrewDog we will just get on with brewing awesome beer and treating our customers like adults.

“I’m sure that makes Henry Ashworth cry a salty tear into his shatterproof tankard of Directors as he tries to enforce his futile and toothless little marketing code, but we couldn’t give a shit about that, either.

“We sincerely hope that the sarcasm of this message fits the Portman Group criteria of responsible use of humour.”

So who says the art of the insult is dead.
More importantly, this is cheap-as-chips PR at its very best. This pithily written response to the biggest kid on the booze block will have BrewDog’s customers and, I dare say, a large part of the general public, laughing into their craft ale.
BrewDog have taken the old saying “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” to heart.
The clever thing is, they do not look to upset people, they wait for people to choose to be upset. A subtle difference. All of their comms are true to their brand, so no one should be surprised at what they do. It’s a bit like picking up a copy of Playboy and being shocked at the pictures of nude ladies.

The astonishing success of BrewDog as a brand and as a serious business has come as a surprise to many marketeers in the drinks industry. The sad thing is, that’s no surprise. Most peddle me-too products, with me-too-too marketing campaigns.
The problem is endemic within the drinks industry. A recent report from branding agency Clear stated, “Beer brands aren’t resilient enough. They simply aren’t connecting enough with consumers and creating enough value.”
Clear then goes on to give straightforward advice as to how brands can overcome the brand ‘sameness’ that typifies the category:
“Build connections through a clear personality. The clearer you are about who you are and the more coherent you are across touchpoints, the more memorable and desirable your brand will be. Differentiate on personality to stand out.”

BrewDog has been doing just that for years now. They even make their humble beer mat a more interesting piece of communication than the average 30-second, £1 million beer commercial.

BrewDog beer mat

BrewDog beer mat

A strong brand identity, and some wickedly funny writing have helped take BrewDog from zero to hero in a few short years. And all this from a brand that doesn’t have an advertising budget.
Who says PR is dead?

3 thoughts on “Long live the beer brand revolution

  1. Great work and column. People who can’t take a joke shouldn’t be drinking good beer anyway. Back in the 90’s, I helped create the infamous Swedish Bikini Team campaign for Old Milwaukee. It pissed off a bunch of people, but became a pop icon. So it goes.

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