Everyone loves beer, don’t they?
Well, Martin Dickie and James Watt – founders of Scottish craft brewery, BrewDog – certainly do.
Bored of the industrially-brewed lagers and ales that had permeated UK bars and off-licences for years, childhood friends Martin and James decided to take matters into their own hands by brewing their own beers. In April 2007, the world was introduced to BrewDog.
The co-founders were only 24 at the time, but that didn’t stop them taking out “some scary bank loans” to buy some stainless steel tanks, leasing a building to put them in and start making “some hard core beers”.
Today, BrewDog is Scotland’s largest independent brewery and figures recently released show that sales last year were up 230% on 2009, selling 7m beers compared to 3.2m the previous year.
What does this mean in terms of money? Well, the brewery turned over £3.4m in 2010, and including the BrewDog bar it opened in Aberdeen, the overall revenue across the group almost broached the £4m mark.
Watt also confirmed that with a larger brewery, 3 bars and a restaurant, he projects a turnover of £8.5m in 2011.
So, either the world has decided to drink itself out of the recession with minimal coercion needed, or BrewDog has tapped into something really special. On second thoughts, maybe it’s a little bit of both.
The BrewDog brand
But what BrewDog has mastered is the art of maximising the return on its marketing and PR efforts. A quick search for ‘BrewDog’ finds 15 separate news items on the BBC website alone, dating from 2008 to 2011.
And it’s probably fair to say that many of the company’s commercial initiatives have had at least one eye on PR.
In November 2009, BrewDog launched Tactical Nuclear Penguin which, at 32% ABV, was the world’s strongest beer at that time.
German brewers Schorschbräu outdid BrewDog by releasing a 40% ABV beer. But the title was soon reclaimed, when BrewDog launched the humorously titled ‘Sink the Bismarck’ in February 2010, which was 41% ABV.
And just in case any other brewery had its eyes on the ‘world’s strongest beer’ prize, BrewDog then launched a very limited-release beer in July 2010 called ‘The End of History’, a 55% ABV monster.
Not content with having the world’s strongest (and at £500 a bottle, the most expensive) beer, the bottles were actually sold encased in dead animals – including squirrels, stoats and even a hare.
Sure, beer is a commodity that automatically lends itself to being discussed – it’s a cool, sexy subject. But backed by such bold commercial, marketing and PR efforts, BrewDog has done a stellar job getting into the public’s consciousness.
It’s only rock ‘n roll…but we like it!
‘Rock ‘n roll’ is about as close a description as you can get to BrewDog’s brand. Its beers have alluring names such as Punk IPA, Trashy Blonde, Zeitgeist, Hardcore IPA, Rip Tide, I Hardcore You and Dogma. And in response to criticism of its particularly strong range of beers, BrewDog released ‘Nanny State’ – at 1.1% ABV, it was a very weak beverage. A great name though.
A double-barrelled marketing strategy
It hasn’t all been shock tactics, however. BrewDog’s PR and marketing machine has been as much reactive as it has proactive.
BrewDog’s branding came in for some criticism from The Portman Group, a UK ‘sensible drinking’ body, for its colourful packaging and just as colourful product descriptions on its labelling. Portman Group called for the company’s bottles to be pulled from the shelves for ‘sexing up’ alcohol.
In response, BrewDog came out all guns blazing, accusing The Portman Group of acting like a suppressive monopolistic cartel. Indeed, the Portman Group is funded by big-brand alcohol companies such as Bacardi-Martini, Beverage Brands (UK) Ltd, Brown-Forman, Carlsberg UK, Coors Brewers UK, Diageo Great Britain, InBev UK Ltd, Pernod Ricard UK and Scottish and Newcastle. So BrewDog probably had a point.
The Portman Group eventually stood down. But following a claim by The Portman Group that “BrewDog is profiteering from the scourge of illegal drugs, mocking the misery caused by the issue” (in reference to a BrewDog beer called ‘Speedball’), BrewDog announced it would sue for defamation. This too was later dropped by BrewDog. It simply wasn’t worth its effort.
The world’s smallest protest…
In October 2010, BrewDog lobbied Westminster in what it called ‘The World’s Smallest Protest’ – which was essentially one placard-wielding dwarf. And what was the protest against? It was an attempt to tear-up UK licensing laws that stipulate beer can only be served in third, half or full-pint measures. BrewDog wanted a new ‘two-thirds’ measure introduced – and it succeeded in getting the law changed.
So, here’s to BrewDog. They’re tearing up the brewery rule-book and, it seems, they’re setting the standard for marketing and PR campaigns the world over too.
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