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Brewdog turn Pink IPA for International Women’s Day

By on Tuesday, March 6, 2018

On the morning of Tuesday 6th March Brewdog, the biggest ‘craft’ beer brand in the UK and owner of numerous branded bars, sent an email to customers, put out a press release and announced across their social media that their flagship Punk IPA would be known for the rest of the month as Pink IPA, with the tag line ‘This is not ‘beer for girls’. This is beer for equality.’

The campaign has solicited diverse and strong reactions from all quarters. Often depending on the person’s relationship with Brewdog previously.

While the big splash was the Punk/Pink IPA visual, there’s a lot of detail going on behind the campaign. Firstly, the visual itself is intended to be satirical.

There are two clear targets one the kind of sexist ‘products for women’ that have come in for much social media criticism in recent years – most notable the Bic for Her pastel coloured pens that implied a normal biro was too manly for women. The other target, and one which many audiences won’t know about is an ongoing debate about sexist labelling of beer.

Sexualised images of women have often been used to advertise beer and with the rise of a more urban progressive, and female, beer drinking population of craft beer this has come under increasing scrutiny, most notably in a recent furore surrounding a collaboration between Manchester brewery Cloudwater and J. Wakefield in Miami.

Brewdog’s visuals and the associated copy attempts to take shots at both of these similar but different issues of sexism in marketing – one aimed at women, one aimed at straight men.

The problem for Brewdog is that understanding the satire means understanding all that context and leaves a huge window to misunderstand the intentions.

Inevitably a large number of responses on Twitter have been negative.

Some assume that Brewdog was guilty of exactly the same thing it was trying to satirise and trying to get more women to drink beer by making it pink; others that despite its professed intentions it still says ‘Beer for girls’ on the label and was therefore upholding the sexist tropes it was trying to undermine; yet more understood the intention and still found the campaign tone deaf; others liked the intention but felt the execution was poor; and in among all the criticism were those who fully supported the campaign.

Beyond the Pink IPA issue was another message.

To mark International Women’s Day on Thursday 8th March, Brewdog said it wanted to draw attention to the 20% gender pay gap between men and women.

For the next month they say they will donate 20% of the profits from Punk and Pink IPA to charities that support women. They’re also giving a 20% discount to anyone who identifies as a woman. This detail was understandably lost in the arguments about the visuals, with several critics asking Brewdog why they weren’t taking this exact action.

Brewdog is no stranger to stunts in the name of progressive politics. From its ‘Hello, my name is Valdimir’ beer criticising Russia’s anti-gay policies, to ‘No Label’ in support of trans identities they’ve often mixed marketing and activism and often faced the same criticism as they have with Pink IPA though on a smaller scale.

Brewdog’s gonzo marketing strategy relies on positioning themselves as outsiders despite their status as one of the most successful companies in the burgeoning UK craft brewing industry.

The odd misstep, pissing a lot of people off but drawing a lot of attention and reinforcing their ‘punk’ credentials, is par for the course and will no doubt help them. The company was trending on Twitter all day and many more people will be aware of the 20% discount offer and no doubt to an increase in sales.

But it could be easily fixed and avoid upsetting anyone beyond a few idiots that think that acknowledging that women face discrimination is somehow an attack on men.

Often Brewdog’s activist campaigning feels like it is for the people it wants to help instead of by them. Involving some feminist campaigners earlier on – and there are plenty in the craft beer world – would have led to a refinement, probably just a simplification of the message, and avoided the pitfalls.

It was interesting to see a couple of related marketing stunts on the same day and how they were received. Honest Brew, another player in craft beer and going for the same audience as Brewdog, launched a hamper of beers curated by women working in craft beer, also for International Women’s Day.

It was much lower profile but much better supported by women in the craft beer world. Interestingly, one of Honest Brew’s founders is a woman with a marketing background and so in a much better position to put this kind of thing together.

Arena Flowers, who use their Twitter account to counter the normal saccharine, traditionally feminine, marketing tropes used by other florists, quickly turned around a satirical take on Brewdog’s satire.

Their take landed much better, perhaps because it wasn’t associated with a real product, perhaps because it felt less earnest, or perhaps because it was just more authentic.

There’s no reason to believe Brewdog don’t mean well with these campaigns but until it feels like they actually care more about the issues than about selling more beer these activist stunts will continue to fall flat from a reputational perspective.

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