BrewDog pick a fight they can’t lose. Again

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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.

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.

30 thoughts on “BrewDog pick a fight they can’t lose. Again”

  1. BrewDog’s beer is (mostly) incredible but the copy on their bottles/website/emails is embarrassing. If I was to share a BrewDog beer with a mate, I’d pour it into an unbranded glass to avoid them sniggering at the crass, immature copy on the back of the bottle.

    A while ago they admirably invited their customers to suggest ways to improve BrewDog (link below). More than a few people commented on their marketing and tone-of-voice needing to grow up a bit. Perhaps BrewDog feel their brand now is too defined in ‘punk’ to mellow/mature? If so, that’s a pity.

    http://www.brewdog.com/blog-article/how-can-we-make-brewdog-better

  2. Their appeal so far remains a mystery to me and especially to my palate.

    I’ve a bet at Paddy Power that in the next five years they will be bought out by a multinational, after which they’ll use their obscene windfall to fire themselves into space on a joint venture with Branson. Or use all their accumulated hot air to do similar branded as ‘equity from arseholes’.

    In the meantime I just file them into the same bin marked ‘Tennants – Oirish Pub – Yawwwnnn – Avoid’.

  3. Interesting that you mention the How To Improve Brewdog blog post, as more than one polite, measured suggestion didn’t make it though the moderation. Fair play – their gaff, their rules, but did they want outside input or not?

    I love a lot of BrewDog beer, but the word-soup on their bottles leaves me (and plenty of others) stone-cold. My favourite is the one which essentially calls the person holding the bottle – the person who’s paid money for the beer – a wanker. Interestingly, I’m fairly sure a lot of their patter comes unfiltered from JW’s frontal-lobe, as this illustrates:

    1) New BrewDog blog post appears. Subject irrelevant at this distance, usual mix of aggressive, faintly unpleasant inanities. Kiss-off line, however, is ‘let’s show all those damn *gunsels* out there!’

    2) Aye-aye. JW isn’t up on his archaic, pejorative slang-terms for homosexuals there, it seems. He just thought it sounds cool. Let’s politely point this out in the comments.

    3) Comment doesn’t get posted. Word, however, is removed.

    4) Feel sorry for JW, having forced him to pussy out on his ever-so ‘punk’ language.

  4. They could learn a few things from The Kernel, who make genuinely good beer and never say a bloody word. Dickheads.

  5. Indeed Phil, others have pointed out on Twitter that BrewDog’s desire for Free Speech doesn’t always extend to comments on their own website, which are removed without warning. It’s their site, of course, they can do what they like. However, it does put their ‘we will not be silenced’ cries into a different kind of context

  6. There’s a hard time denying the positive and inspirational influence they’ve had on the brewing scene – I was an early investor and have been a vocal proponent – and yes, ‘tantrums’ are their schtick to a greater or lesser degree, but what’s charming in a toddler can be tiresome as FUCK a few years later; so what with this, a couple of genuine duds (Mashtag, by christ, tastes like an old man’s flaky nutsack) and the *very* peculiar atmosphere at this year’s AGM, I’m reserving the right to ration my love for them on a beer-by-beer basis.

  7. @Phil…

    Could you elaborate on the peculiar atmosphere at the AGM this year? Wasn’t able to make it to this years.

  8. whilst some may not like brewdogs approach to marketing and the media, you cant deny they bring a lot of attention to “craft” beer, which is only a good thing. if people read these stories in the newspaper or online and are then more inclined to try alternative beers to stella, bud, carling etc etc then how is this a bad thing? comments such as the above calling them dickheads are completely unnecessary.

  9. I’ll weigh in with a suggestion that Mr Watt’s tweet could easily have been accompanied by an overture from a well known (but 20 years later, juvenile) Rage Against The Machine song.

    I enjoy most of the Brewdog core range, but some of the seasonal’s and one offs are a bit of a let down, especially this years IPA is dead series, I found it a right slog getting through them!

    Having recently visited their Edinburgh bar and I can only describe the experience as uncomfortable. A pub where its so quiet nobody speaks above a whisper? Far from the atmosphere I expected from a brand which espouses a “punk” ethos. Similarly a mate tells me his visit to their Newcastle venue was a real let down after being told to keep the noise down or they’d be asked to leave! I don’t think its healthy to have rules as to how people should behave in their company.

    It won’t put me off buying brews as good as Jackhammer or anything in the Paradox series though, as I feel their quality really stands out.

  10. It goes to show what they have become by trying to think swearing is so punk. Was James listening to Johnny Rotten in daddy’s mansion, again? Did you realise that you are now thirty plus and that you need to remember how to be young? Not big enough though to use the c word though are you?

  11. Re: the AGM – while the mechanics of it were much improved this year with lots of great BD and guest beer freely available at good prices, the atmos was haughty, detached and actually fairly imperious. The actual patter from JW/MD had changed from just a couple of friendly guys a bit flabbergasted at their own success, to a pair of preening, strutting, self-impressed dicks.

    The business presentation was garbled and unfocused. And I’m not sure if all the filming they’ve been doing has convinced them they’re a zingy double-act, but the audience’s attention wandered pretty damn sharpish, especially during MD’s hour-long drone about the latest developments in mash-tuns.

    We saw an exclusive clip of BrewDogs, btw. The entire AECC had to look away and shuffle their feet due to extreme embarrassment.

  12. If they were “punk”, they would be a co-operative. If they were “punk”, they would be more stealthy in their marketing and general attitude. If they were “punk”, they would have a set sound moral principles with which to do business. Do they give back to their own community up there in any way?

    They are shallow, arrogant hyperbolic fuckwits. Granted @Phil they have changed the face of beer to an extent. They have done this positively. I thought about investing in the first share issue. Glad I didn’t do it now as I would not be able to get rid of/them. I could not get enough of the old Punk and loved the Hardcore. However, their vainglorious self-promotion and rhetoric took their toll on me. Their limited childlike vocabulary e.g. awesome, killer etc is mindbogglingly puerile. Their blog used to welcome healthy debate where you could leave criticism but no longer. I have since decided to boycott their beers and their bars.

    I think they are damaging the concept of “craft” beer. E.g. A colleague of mine about a year ago told that he liked the craft beer scene. The fact he made a point of “craft”. He is also a fan of Timothy Taylor Landlord. In my eyes that is also a craft beer. The point here is that no beer is good beer unless it has the “craft” concept behind it. For example, what is the point of a cucumber and juniper saison? (Partizan). It will not taste of cucumber. Why? Because cucumber has very little flavour. I firmly believe that Spewdog are responsible for ludicrous ideas like this. Perhaps someone should develop a tripel imperial strawberry Helles fermented with American ale yeast, dry hopped with Martian Galaxy (there is only one bale in the universe and we got it) and added oxygen from the oxygen cannon as this stimulates extra flavinoids and tickles the tastebuds in a new way.

    The stereotype they have created is a Frankensteinesque freak. You are only allowed in on the secret of “awesome” beer if:
    1) You have a beard.
    2) You have tattoos.
    3) You can must use awesome, killer & dude in every second sentence.
    4) You take the youtube clip of “Shit beer geeks say” seriously as your mantra
    5) You have mulitple piercings.
    6) You wear a fucking flat-cap, tweedy waistcoat, unironed shirt, loosened tie. Or a tight t-shirt to show of the full sleeves.
    7) You’re a bouncy sub-25 year-old female who didn’t touch/like beer until they had a Brewdog beer not because it lacked flavour but because you were told to like it.
    8) As above same for males.
    9) You have a tasting notes book (aka you are a beer ticker)
    10) You are a complete bawbag.

    Please note this is the stereotype, not representative of all who choose to imbibe their beers.

    In five years time, they will probably have subsumed at least on other brewery.

  13. The sheer state of the marketing language is utter rubbish. I really hope they do write this themselves and someone isn’t locked away in a room bashing out version after version of this dribble.

    My central issue though Rich is still… it all tastes like a bit like orange juice after you’ve brushed your teeth.

  14. The positivity they wrought can be seen all over the UK brewing scene, I feel. Go to any good bottle-shop and look at the shelves – dozens of new brewers whose spark was unmistakably ignited by BD’s combination of imagination, enthusiasm and cheekiness. Even if it was only a bottle of Punk that inspired people to look further before setting out – to be fair to BD, they’ve always been extremely upfront about their influences and inspiration from over the pond.

    But, you know, I could go my whole life without hearing James Watt say the word ‘insipid’ again. Or ‘multi-national’. Or ‘whores’. Especially if he has to stoke his fires of outrage himself, because everyone else is bored of them.

  15. Graham – I largely agree with the comment on ‘punk’ – although punks were not shy of self-promotion, there’s a touch of…what? Desperation(?) in the most recent marketing releases.

    I disagree with you on the cucumber thing – Fyne Ales/ Wild Beer Cool as a Cucumber has a huge cucumber flavour to it, it’s like a gin-free Hendricks. Fantastic stuff

  16. Ha ha beautiful analogy! Although I did have a bottle of punk the other day as it was either that or Carling, and I have to admit it was actually nice. The last time I tried it I had to water the plants with it.

  17. Phil – when it’s all said and done, many a case study will be written about BrewDog. Despite the blog post I just wrote, you can’t (as you say) underestimate the input and influence they have had on the British beer scene

  18. Richard-I’m not trying to come over all Crass style or holier than thou on the punk front and I agree with you. More along the lines of BD get out of your nappies or put a sock in it.
    I dare say the Fyne Cucumber was very flavourful. I won’t doubt you for a second. My point was pair cucumber with juniper and you won’t taste cucumber, so becomes a relatively pointless experiment, which shouldn’t be sold in my opinion.

  19. Graham Ford – spot on and nails it for me.

    BrewDog changed me from a malty real ale drinker into a “that looks interesting, I’ll give it a try … it’s brilliant/mediocre/awful” drinker. I have a lot to thank them for and I remember in particular a friend’s reaction the first time he drank Punk in the Edinburgh bar after decades of drinking chemical lager. However, as the saying goes “the baw’s burst” and they need some reinvention.

  20. Ah, right. Cucumber and Juniper could be a tough combination, trying for the botanical, clearly. Partizan are one heck of a brewery, the old Kernel kit is in good hands

  21. I’ve seen some kits that would beg to differ, the brewers need to be even more skilled to get the most out of them. Not that I’d put Evin’s old brewplant in that bracket though, despite the paces it has been put through over the years…

  22. Kernel and Partizan are an ace double act. Although I’ve been blown away by Weird Beard on keg at Bat / Vintage last few days..

    As for continuing BD rumblings – I kind of feel bad for calling them dickheads etc – their legacy is nailed by Rich, Tom, and Graham’s comments above. The bottom line is that the game has changed stratospherically in the last 2 years, and BD are long past starting to look like dad rockers. I’m not sure who their marketing team are, but they really need to stop being Jock extras in Nathan Barley and work out an escape route from the anal / oral phase they’ve been stuck in since year dot.

  23. Thanks Phil, I can’t say I’m surprised by what you said regarding the AGM.

    I have to echo other people sentiments. I’ll always be grateful to Brewdog for opening my eyes to good beer but they’ve well and truly kicked the arse out of their schtick.

    I think if it as them kicking down the doors to the underground beer scene, but once inside you realise there are far better, nicer offerings with less of a ‘Just bite your tongue and ignore it’ marketing scheme. It just took them booting the doors in to show people the way.

  24. I am saddened that they haven’t grown up yet, its sort of testament to the quality of their beer, that keep buying it despite the marketing nonsense

  25. I am surprised that action was taken over one complaint, if there had been 50 or 100 I’d understand it, And anyway, its not bad language, that’s just the way the talk in that part of Scotland!

  26. We talk like that all over Scotland but that is their marketing copy. They must still think that they are “edgy” and “radical” cos they use sweary words to describe themselves.
    They are a bunch of cunts full stop.

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