BrewDog Punk AF launch sours: 'The idea is clearly derived from our pitch' says ex-agency

The BrewDog and Manifest AFfair: ‘it’s high time the industry protect its ideas’

BrewDog and its former agency have clashed over the launch of the drinks firm's alcohol-free beer Punk AF. Manifest founder Alex Myers claims his team created the ‘Punk AF’ brand during its nine-year relationship with BrewDog and was told the idea had been rejected – only to now see it resurface.

On Thursday (9 May) BrewDog pushed into the alcohol-free beer market when it took the wraps off Punk AF, Alcohol Free IPA, on social media. But the grand launch hit a roadblock when Myers claimed his agency had created the concept and had not been credited nor paid for it.

Explaining his complaint in more detail to The Drum, Myers said: "The idea is clearly derived from our pitch.

"We created a branding proposal for ‘soft beers’. Our central idea was Punk AF, a strategy based on the challenges of the category and the opportunities for BrewDog. However, they said they were going in another direction.”

He shared one of the creative assets from the pitch.

Myers claims to have informed BrewDog of the similarities between the concepts back in January 2019 – and had received “no response”.

“I tweeted when I saw the launch tweet simply because I think it’s high time as an industry we protect our ideas. It’s our currency, at the end of the day. This isn’t a ‘bust up’ and I’m not angry. It was just the right thing to do to flag it.”

The agency is pursuing payment for its role in the product's inception. Nonetheless, Myers stressed there is no animosity between the client and agency.

He concluded: “We worked with BrewDog for nine years and we’re proud of our work together. This isn’t about a bust-up or villainising anyone, it’s about honesty and the value of creative work.”

The Drum contacted BrewDog for comment on the accusations and was referred to the following tweet from Watt, which acknowledges Manifest did once work on a product bearing the same name but claiming it did so while on a retainer.

The origins of any idea can be contested. Case in point: there were some social media users suggesting they had even created the AF idea before Manifest did (1), (2).

Meanwhile, a bumper marketing campaign for Punk AF is starting to unfold after it first teased the new product on London buses.

On the launch, Watt said: "Punk IPA is the beer that kick-started a revolution. With the creation of Punk AF, we’re continuing to push our limits and expand the possibility of what craft beer can be. We’re tearing down the image of alcohol free beer as weak and flavourless. Say hello to the Punkest new beer in town."

The brand has built a global presence and a litany of supporters (and no few detractors) thanks to years of irreverent marketing stunts. Some efforts have landed better than others (see Pink IPA).

Brewdog has positioned itself as the antithesis of Britain’s beer establishment. As well as taking aim at “monolithic breweries” and their “stack ‘em high sell ‘em cheap” lagers at every opportunity, it has also jabbed away at the decades-old Campaign for Real Ale (“archaic”), the Advertising Standards Authority (“those motherfuckers have no jurisdiction over us”) and ever-willing punchbag the Portman Group (“we are sorry for never giving a shit about anything the Portman Group has to say”).

But as it matures, it is now making a bold push into spirits with a design-for-equity deal with the Love agency. David Gates, who took up the managing director role of BrewDog’s distilling wing in November 2018, compared the company’s agility to his former employer Diageo.

“The pace of decisions is much more rewarding. There is a financial reward but also a creative reward – [creatives] just want to see their work out there. Creatives feed this energy back into the system.”

BrewDog once told its fans 'not to buy the advertising' of beer rivals. This line has come back into circulation with the recent accusations.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.