BrewDog, the irreverent self-styled champion of the nascent UK craft brewing industry recently found itself in trouble with the Portman Group, a trade association that covers most of the UKs largest brewers. Portman said:
The packaging of Dead Pony Club, a pale ale produced by BrewDog, has broken alcohol marketing rules for encouraging both anti-social behaviour and rapid drinking.
The Independent Complaints Panel (ICP) considered the product following an independent audit of drinks last year, administered by Campden BRI on behalf of the Portman Group.
Dead Pony Club’s packaging was identified as being in potential breach of the Code for its association with bravado and immoderate consumption, and for placing undue emphasis on the strength and intoxicating effect of the alcohol in the product. The producer did not make representations to the Panel...
A Retailer Alert Bulletin has been issued instructing licensees and retailers not to place orders for stocks of Dead Pony Club in its current packaging after 8 July 2014.
Sounds serious doesn't it?
In response, BrewDog's co-founder James Watt issued an 'apology' on its website with the provocative title #SorryNotSorry:
On behalf of BrewDog PLC and its 14,691 individual shareholders, I would like to issue a formal apology to the Portman Group for not giving a shit about today’s ruling. Indeed, we are sorry for never giving a shit about anything the Portman Group has to say, and treating all of its statements with callous indifference and nonchalance.
Apart from the sarcasm, BrewDog is subtly drawing attention to the fact the Portman Group has no legal basis for issuing any banning order, although there may be grounds for action against retailers who defy the Portman edict under commercial contracts that invoke its code of practice.
What's strange about this case is that as far as I can gather, the only people complaining are the Portman Group. I can find no evidence that the public feels the need to raise a complaint. So what's the deal?
The craft brewing industry is growing rapidly. In the US, it is estimated that it now accounts for eight percent of all beer sales with companies like New Belgium Brewery grabbing attention with their innovative use of technology to help their sales reps.
In the UK, the craft brewing industry is much smaller, perhaps accounting for half of one percent of all sales. Given that level of penetration, it is surprising to see the Portman Group taking this position. What does it have to fear?
BrewDog claims it is the largest of the UK craft brewers yet its revenue is £20 million per annum and has a dozen or so owned outlets in the UK. That's a small rounding error when measured against the sales of the big brands. However, all the indications are that this segment of the brewing industry is set to grow rapidly in the coming years. That creates a challenge to incumbents that are often demonized as being run by cost counting accountants rather than brewers.
Fighting back in this manner is one way to almost guarantee attention and, if BrewDog are to be believed, this tussle has been trending on Facebook - that's where I picked it up.
What's next? That's hard to tell. Presumably, BrewDog doesn't consider that distribution of Dead Pony Club will be impacted by the ICP ban. It's out of stock as at the time of writing!!
What's certain is that we can expect BrewDog to continue defying convention and remaining edgy in its approach to marketing.