Has anyboody not heard of BrewDog?

Has anyboody not heard of BrewDog?

This month, Larry Nelson has a challenge for those of you with an eye on the beer category. Pencils at the ready?

The numbers: There are thousands of craft (or micro) brewers that have begun operations in markets around the world within the last seven years. The number is pushing into the thousands in the US and well into the hundreds in the UK.

The challenge: In the next 30 seconds, name as many of these recent start-ups as you can.

The purely unscientific result: Given the headline to this column, you’ve undoubtedly already written down or mumbled the starter answer, BrewDog. (But, make friends and try this on your sure-to-be-amused, beer-loving acquaintances!)

From a standing start in 2007, co-founders James Watt and Martin Dickie have grown a business based near Aberdeen in Scotland as one renowned for extreme beers, a base of loyal ‘punk’ supporters via crowdfunding, and a professed dislike for big beer brands. There’s also a penchant for publicity stunts that has grown the reputation of the business well beyond the actual volume of beer sold. (There’s probably a need to devise a ratio that divides column inches and air time by barrels brewed, as a measure of brand goodwill.)

Watts and Dickie are no longer a Scottish/British phenomena and/or irritant. (In the latter grouping, you can safely include the Advertising Standards Authority, with whom BrewDog’s latest run-in has been over their use of obscenities; UK self-regulatory body The Portman Group regarding alcoholic strengths; and Diageo, whom the company drove to a moment of insanity at an industry awards ceremony in 2012.)

The boys are now global, having fronted in the US last year a beer-hunter-meets-lads’-mag reality series on the start-up Esquire magazine television channel. And, fresh off a BrewDog craft beer bar opening in Sao Paulo, the latest on-trade welcomes beer lovers this month in Tokyo. What's especially amazing about this trajectory is the contrast with the majority of BrewDog's neophyte peers, who are worried about deliveries in a 30-to 50 mile radius around their breweries.

Strip away the noise and the controversy and these guys are brand-building geniuses.

BrewDog does several things well, and thus are worth itemising.

Have branding that is simple, identifiable.

The BrewDog name is instantly memorable; the logo is simple, replicable and identifiable. Think Virgin, Apple, Nike. BrewDog has the potential to be the brewing industry umbrella brand equivalent. Crucially, on the on-trade front, they’ve invested not just in local pubs, but targeted city centre operations. And not just any cities, but the cool, hip ones, where opinion formers will help spread the word. 

Have a mission statement, keep it simple, and repeat it constantly.

Watts and Dickie have been consistent on this, espousing a very simple core message that is repeated time and time again in their communications, especially their crowdfunding activities: “Our mission has always been to make people as passionate about craft beer as we are.” Hard to argue against that, isn’t it? I mean, who isn’t in favour of flavourful beer? 

Have an enemy.

If you don’t have one, create one. The flip side of being champions of something is a requirement to have someone who isn’t. Enter the Goliath required by David, multinational brewers who stand accused of making and marketing bland, insipid beers – and much worse.

Make everything bigger than it is.

BrewDog has an eye for the headline. No story is too run-of-the-mill that it can’t be made into something attention-grabbing. This is certainly true of last week’s announcement of a beer-and-food partnering with an upmarket burger chain in London, a collaboration that results in a burger that contains so much craft beer that purchasers will be asked for ID. Nine out of ten craft beer rivals would have approached this story differently – talked about the provenance of the ingredients, how the beer contrasts/compliments the food, and generally treated it with an air of  earnestness. Not BrewDog – their burger requires an ID. (Technically, it does anyway: The burger is being sold in combination with an especially-brewed beer.)

This last point seems to drive some commentators particularly up the wall. Is such behaviour simply cynical, attention-grabbing to create a brand, thereby mimicking the behaviour of the big brand brewers they profess to despise?

This brings up the final item on BrewDog’s brand-building checklist:

Have fun. Share the experience.

BrewDog has been endlessly inventive in its brewing, happily looking to better-established American craft brethren for inspiration. Don’t these guys look like they’re having a good time? And they’ve succeeded in raising millions of pounds through three rounds of crowdfunding, their wildly successful 'Equity for Punks' scheme. It’s quite the accolade that so many people like the beer and relate to the brand that they’ve invested chunks of cash in the business.

So, what will BrewDog look like to its audiences five years from now? Will punk become mainstream?

As the business grows, some level of sophistication in its presentation will need to creep in – indeed, some of it will be welcome. It remains a mystery why BrewDog sprinkles its press releases and communications with obscenities. It’s juvenile, childish. While Watts and Dickie may be intent on being portrayed as rebels with a cause and welcome the publicity, it just isn’t clever.

That said, the duo certainly don’t lack wit. Launching a beer during the Winter Olympics that mocked Russia’s Vladimir Putin for his anti-gay sentiments – and sending him a case – was outstanding.

One of the challenges that may move BrewDog to a mainstream brewing industry model could be a demand to create more sessionable, balanced beers; a focus on the core brands to allow the seasonals and one-offs recognisable structure.

But, other roads beckon. Love or hate their beers and the posturing that goes with it, they have created in no time at all a brand that has discernable values attached. In this respect, they are streets ahead of the following pack. What Watts and Dickie do with this prize next – is there scope to take BrewDog beyond the world of brewing? – will be fascinating.