Is BrewDog flogging a dead pony with its controversy-driven marketing?

Is BrewDog flogging a dead pony with its controversy-driven marketing?

It's with a weary sigh that I say: Here we go again. When The Portman Group issued a decision about a product made by BrewDog, we knew what was going to follow. At least, then, we weren't left disappointed.

Late yesterday (28 April), The Portman Group, a UK drinks industry-funded watchdog that promotes responsible drinking and monitors product marketing, admonished Scottish craft brewer BrewDog for the packaging of its Dead Pony Club Pale Ale. The label quote “rip it up down empty streets” associated the product with anti-social behaviour, while  ‘drink fast, live fast’ and ‘we believe faster is better’ could encourage the consumer to drink the product rapidly the group's independent complaints panel (that's, independent) concluded. Consequently, a “Retailer Alert Bulletin” was issued, instructing licensees and retailers not to place orders for stocks of Dead Pony Club in its current packaging after 8 July.

We didn't have to wait long for the inevitable. Within an hour, BrewDog countered with a statement that had as its title: “BrewDog issues formal apology to Portman Group for ‘not giving a shit’.”

The tone of this response, from a company that positions itself as a “punk” player in the brewing category that is here to counter “corporate freaks” who “think they got us fooled with their tasteless, mindless, visionless crap”, was as inevitable as night following day.

It's the irresponsible approach by the Scottish craft brewer to the ruling that exasperates me. Much as the company will be unhappy with the Portman Group for its decision (although BrewDog must be used to it by now) to use your marketing as your marketing in any way, shape or form is, to me, a smokescreen for the quality of your product.

The final straw, however, is the flagrant disregard for the tightrope that we as an industry have to walk every single day. With the very vocal health lobby up in arms over the self-regulatory position the alcoholic drinks industry has – so far – been granted, signs of inter-industry disagreement are manna from heaven.

If the industry is unable to keep its house in order, the authorities may question, then could the time be right to impose an organisation that can?

And, no-one wants that.

I understand that BrewDog must feel persecuted by the likes of The Portman Group. Indeed, I imagine the organisation goes through the brewer's marketing with a fine-tooth comb: A reputation for sailing close to the wind will do that.

But, enough is enough.  The very lively fallout from yesterday's row shows that, with great publicity comes great responsibility.

It's time for BrewDog to drop the persecution complex. It's time for BrewDog to grow up.