April 18, 2011

On BrewDog, Publicity Stunts, and the Point of Marketing

So BrewDog is at it again.

By "it," I of course mean creating a beer designed to cause hubbub and publicity. You may recall their earlier works battling for the highest ABV in beer, battling again for the highest ABV in beer, and wrapping $1000 bottles of beer in roadkill. This time, the Scottish brewery is poking a little fun at the upcoming royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton with a tasteful little number called Royal Virility Performance. It is brewed "Viagra, chocolate, Horny Goat Weed and ‘a healthy dose of sarcasm’." 
Cue the outrage? Cue the outrage.

Jack Curtin and the B&W Bros have already lamented this "over the top" gesture as being too much about marketing and not enough about beer. In the coming days, others will join them.

As you might imagine, I will not.

First, I encourage everyone, as always, to chill. If a brewery in Scotland wants to pull a fun little publicity stunt, then let them. The Royal Wedding is the biggest damn deal in Britain since Diana died, and some might say that, in a country that's had wars and recessions recently, the fact that a wedding can bring us all to a halt is a more proper subject for lamentation. But I've never been a fan of lamentation, so humor is good, too, and that's what this is.

Second, no one chiming in has tasted this beer, but this isn't 12 bottles of 100 proof "beer," this is a 7.5% ABV IPA. It might taste good, and including virility aids in drinks - as anyone who has visited Latin America is aware - is a very old tradition that is unlikely to ruin flavor. It might be a perfectly well-crafted beer.

Third, the people getting pissed are probably pissed at exactly the same thing that pisses off BrewDog. Here, I will excerpt the press release:
With this beer we want to take the wheels off the royal wedding bandwagon being jumped on by dozens of breweries; The Royal Virility Performance is the perfect antidote to all the hype. A beer should be brewed with a purpose, not just because some toffs are getting married, so we created something at our brewery that will undermine those special edition beers and other assorted seaside tat, whilst at the same time actually give the happy couple something extra on their big day... We want to make other people as passionate about great craft beer as we are and products marketed according to an event rather than their flavour is an example of what’s wrong with the industry. There is more to brewing and tasting beer than putting a royal wedding label on it, so we’re showing everyone just how ludicrous it is.
Look, in the US, we do not have eleventy billion commemorative brews being released, but in the UK they do, and most of those are by places that don't care as much about beer the rest of the year as BrewDog does (at least, that's BrewDog's feeling). So they released a beer to poke some fun.

Finally, the point of marketing is to sell beer, and I'm sure this - like much of BrewDog's creativity - will do that. Yes, antics are amusing, but they're designed to draw attention to - and sell - good, solid, craft beer. This isn't just a stunt, it's part of a persona BrewDog has cultivated. The number of people whose inner snob this might bother is much lower than the number of people who will hear about a good craft brewery because of this, and that punk revolutionary spirit will be found in their beer. From a design standpoint, I see these stunts as a great, creative extension of branding. BrewDog now lives a form of performance art that is rare and surprising. Yes, it would be great if the world suddenly all realized small craft breweries produced a great-tasting product and no one drank any Bud Light ever again, but in the meantime part of craft beer's growth worldwide is because people in the industry get how to market to exactly in creative, edgy ways that ABI would never consider.

Relax, everyone.

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