Technique 2 minutes, 40 second read Mark Johnson, Editor, Just.Marketing
High-risk PR stunts and iconoclastic marketing activations driven by a passion for characterful craft beers make BrewDog a true innovator brand.
Admirer Donald Ferguson, Director, Hope & Glory PR, says, “The phrase ‘a bit like BrewDog’ has become shorthand for ‘disruptive comms’ and rightly so. From the off, the brand knew exactly what it wanted to say and be based on, what it didn’t, and has been single-minded in that approach right up to the present day. One of the few out there that continually manages to court controversy and use it as an incredibly cost-effective marketing tool.”
BrewDog has trodden the challenger brand route with great success. Just 10 years from launch, the company was valued at £1 billion.
BrewDog was there at the start of the craft brewing revolution in 2007. But what has propelled the brand beyond its small town beginnings in Fraserburgh, Scotland, has been the spirit of its marketing. And it goes well beyond the packaging.
It pulls off an irreverent challenger brand positioning every time, which is no simple task. To resonate, the approach has to be there from the start and embedded in the culture. Just a year from launch, for example, the brand’s challenger credentials and marketing nous were confirmed when it grabbed headlines for brewing the UK’s strongest ever beer, Tokyo.
Other brands brewed up since have names that imply not just a taste but a manifesto with a huge dollop of fun: Nanny State, Dead Pony Club, Evil Twin, Northern Monk and more.
How to build a community: use PR
PR has been key to the development of its brand and its community of fellow beer aficionados.
One stunt in particular was reminiscent of PR genius Richard Branson’s flair for generating publicity. Its founders James Watt and Martin Dickie were refused bank funding, so the two launched a crowd-funding campaign. Dubbed ‘Equity for Punks’ (there have been several such funding rounds since) the campaign kicked off with its founders driving a tank past the very banks that had turned them down.
In December last year, during the General Election, it reprised its ‘Vote Punk’ bus (see main image) offering a free beer to anyone who voted. It featured a heavily sarcastic nod to such political stunts with a note saying, “100% of the statements on this bus are accurate.”
Not only were these acts entirely in line with its rebellious positioning – the whole reason BrewDog exists is in revolt against the large ‘faceless’ brewers they say produce equally ‘faceless’ lagers – it has always cleverly brought the brand’s passion to the attention of other beer lovers.
More recently, its ‘Punk Sanitiser’ grabbed headlines at the start of the pandemic. Its Aberdeenshire distillery became a hand sanitiser factory offering it for free amid the shortages. It showed a lot of heart but was also high risk as the first batches were rejected by the NHS.
In truth, the pandemic has brought BrewDog to the brink of collapse, its founders have admitted publicly. But the company has launched a £7.5m crowdfunding campaign and there is talk of potentially floating on the stock market.
Could this spell the end of its punk marketer status? We think not.