Brewdog spark the age old argument: There’s no such thing as “bad” publicity. Or is there?

Brewdog spark the age old argument: There’s no such thing as “bad” publicity. Or is there?

Recently, craft beer brand Brewdog launched their offensive against gender pay discrimination with their “Pink IPA”; a satirical play on words of their flagship product “Punk IPA”. Leading with the bold, brazen statement:

“Punk’s for men and Pink’s for women, right? Wrong. Beer is for everyone and gender is not defined by colour.”

Even on the face of it, it appears a mess. Throw in for context that this was on the run up to International Women’s Day (which they say that this was in aid of) and things start to get eye-wateringly cringeworthy.

Their claims throughout all of this is that it is all for equality and they are going to be donating 20% of the profits for the next four weeks to Women’s equality charities. Their first tweet referenced that “This is not ‘beer for girls’. This is beer for equality” with an image showing a triumphant new Pink IPA bottle standing tall among the remains of one of their (blue) Punk IPA bottles, smashed in two. Powerful imagery indeed.

Issues were taken around this jovial nature for addressing gender equality. It has been labelled a PR disaster as they have been slated in the media, ridiculed for having to use #Sarcasm to indeed point out sarcasm with the argument being “if it needs a hashtag, you should probably realise it isn’t appropriate in the first place”.

For the slightly cynical among us (including this author) it throws up a huge question: Was this a PR nightmare or was it a slight bit of underhand marketing in order to gain much more traction for their brand’s awareness and get more exposure for their brand… particularly at a time where they are raising capital through the sale of equity shares.

So let’s take a quick look at the metrics for their social media.

Across their three tweets on Twitter talking about their new “Pink IPA” (at the time of writing) they had nearly 1,000 RTs, over 3,000 likes and nearly 2,000 replies.

Compare this to their previous posts and; for a company with over 120k followers on Twitter their engagement levels were leaving quite a bit to be desired – their regular posts only garnering an average of around 50 likes and even fewer retweets.

They did even better on Instagram with over 16,000 likes on their posts about the “Pink IPA” and just under 24,000 plays of their promotional video. They generally do well across the rest of their posts on Instagram but it is again lacking slightly in audience engagement considering that they have over 200,000 followers.

So, it seems, when boiled down to purely social media and reach metrics, this campaign appears to have increased the number of people interacting with the brand. And this leads us to the main question: Is there REALLY such thing as bad publicity?

A quick Google search shows 920,000 search results for “Brewdog” and 147,000 results for “Brewdog pink IPA”. That’s a lot of coverage. I mean, I am writing an article about what has happened and at the weekend I even stopped to take a look at the Brewdog beer selection in the supermarket out of curiosity; something which I wouldn’t have done without the media circus surrounding their “Pink IPA” – and I am sure I am not the only one.

Brewdog’s Global Head of Marketing, Sarah Warman told Huffpost UK that “We always anticipated that some people might not immediately appreciate the irony of Pink IPA but that did not deter us in our mission to spark a conversation about the Gender Pay Gap”. This apparently appears to highlight that Brewdog knew what they were doing and knew that some people “just wouldn’t get it” but continued anyway. The effects of their social media reach have been seen and I for one would be extremely interested to see sales figures for March 2018.

You can argue that brands will always have their critics and that every campaign will always attract some form of backlash in a time where it is easier than ever for someone to come into direct contact with your brand and launch their opinion at you. But using an issue such as gender equality as leverage for a campaign? That might be a step too far.

But then the proverbial can of worms is torn apart.

Are they genuinely trying to raise a spotlight on gender equality with this campaign? Or do they know that doing so will attempt to make them “look good” and make more people want to buy their products? Does any company engage in CSR activities because they genuinely want to do good or do all companies realise that making themselves look good translates to more sales?

It is no coincidence then that according to Reason Digital 77% of 16-24 year olds surveyed had bought a “fair trade” product and according to Basil & Weber, 2006; Nelson et al., 2006; Women are more likely to develop trust, empathy and to be seen as caring which perhaps makes them more likely to choose a product with a “good” CSR record.

Is this a bad thing?

On the face of it… not really. It basically boils down to your own ethical barometer and whether you believe that outcomes validate the motive of the inputs. If a company is “doing good things” to make more sales because they know that customers are more likely to buy a product from a company that “does good things” then.. good things get done.

Were Brewdog wrong in what was most likely a marketing oversight to use Gender Equality and International Women’s Day to launch an ultimately sexist product (unless you afford them the time to read their explanations)? Probably. But did it spark further conversation about the Gender Pay Gap in the workplace? Yes it did. Are charities who do nothing but good for the sake of the people that they affect going to benefit from this? Yes – 20% of Brewdog’s profits over the next 4 weeks will go to those charities.

Does that make the exercise ok? We will let you decide.

Header image from BrewDog, and BrewDog’s Twitter and Instagram