It’s been fairly quiet of late, up in Ellon. As in BrewDog have been quietly fitting out their enormous space-age brewery, quietly bringing outsourced operations back in house, and quietly releasing some impressive beers (Jackhammer, Hello my Name is Beastie). However – and stop me if you’ve heard this before – the other day they seemed to have fallen foul of a regulatory body regarding their flavourful language used in their non-marketing marketing strategy. The Advertising Standards Authority laid down a ruling (in full here) on the Aberdeenshire outfit, following a single anonymous complaint from a member of the public.
The complaint apparently revolved around this passage on BrewDog’s website:-
“BrewDog is a post Punk apocalyptic mother fu*ker of a craft brewery. Say goodbye to the corporate beer whores crazy for power and world domination … Ride toward anarchy and caramel craziness. Let the sharp bitter finish rip you straight to the tits. Save up for a Luger, and drill the bastards”.
An ‘internet user’ challenged whether this would be likely to cause offence, the ASA agreed, and asked BrewDog to remove the passage, and (presumably whilst ruffling their hair) told them to ‘take care to avoid causing serious offence in the future’. The matter was also referred on to the ASA’s compliance arm, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP).
For their part, BrewDog removed the passage, claiming (presumably whilst kicking the carpet, hands in pockets) that they were going to take it down anyway, to make room for content on their Equity for Punks share scheme. So, all good then. Ohhhh…this is BrewDog, I forget. Possibly regarding the section of the ruling which stated ‘[BrewDog] did not provide a substantive response to our enquiries’, co-founder James Watt tweeted thusly.
— James Watt (@BrewDogJames) July 24, 2013
Well, they do – whether you consider BrewDog’s grinding of the English language to be advertising or not (I do, of course it is), the ASA covers online and social media. What they don’t have is any real teeth – from their immediate stance on Twitter, it looks apparent that the Aberdeenshire brewery aren’t for backing down (generating the genuinely clever hashtag #KissMyASA). The CAP will presumably monitor the situation, and have the ultimate power in issuing further sanction against BrewDog if they repeatedly offend – or re-instate the ‘offending’ paragraph; which looks inevitable, given the flurry of tweets from both James and their official account.
So what can we expect to eventually happen? Well, if branded a repeat-offender (or to put it into context for this complaint – a potty mouth), BrewDog could potentially be summoned to a meeting to discuss their compliance – which would be a PR open goal for them, I bet you 50p right now they turn up in a tank – and then the CAP could issue official sanctions. Effectively, this could feature the brewery being placed on an advertising checklist (aka the naughty step), currently featuring other notables such as ‘Your Psychic Destiny’ “unsubstantiated claims of genuine psychics” and ‘Kidz 5 a Day UK Ltd’ “unable to demonstrate the powdered drink contained fruit and vegetables”.
The ASA and CAP also work closely with the Office of Fair Trading, but in my (admittedly limited) knowledge of these three-lettered agencies, the OFT are unlikely to lift a finger over bad language. BrewDog have, effectively, been backed into a corner that contains a comfortable sofa, minibar, gold-plated loudhailer, and fibreoptic broadband connection. Deep down, they must realise nothing can be done to stop them. Which is why they have always ‘courted’ controversy. But, with regard to being sanctioned by industry watchdogs, BrewDog have (as I said before) a very specific history. Back in 2009, the Portman Group received a complaint about the language used on the label of Tokyo*, that the wording of the 18.2% beer encouraged excessive drinking.
To cut a very long story short, it transpired that the single member of the public who submitted that complaint was, in fact, BrewDog co-founder James Watt. Yes, he complained about his own beer to garner publicity. And now, here we are again, four years on, with another single-complaint received by an agency, regarding language used by BrewDog. As a result, once again, their legion of fans are goaded to get up in arms, generate many Tweets of support, column inches, etc etc. So, have they cried wolf a second time? Are they the backs-to-the-wall punks, defending free speech on the internet? Or is this a genuine issue of concern to a member of the public and potential customer?
You know what? I don’t care. The central issue, for me, right here is that BrewDog’s marketing language is utter rubbish. It always has been, but in an end-of-the-pier, learned-from-Stone kind of way. Now they are a multi-million pound company, with a dozen bars and countless employees, it just grates, particularly as it seems to be getting worse. ‘Rip you to the tits’? Fuck off. Yes, it’s their website, and they can write on it what they want, but it’s not free speech if you’re trying to sell someone a product. You can’t hide behind that whilst generating PR. Back them if you like, buy into it by all means, but realise what they are, and what they really stand for.