As BrewDog’s founder promises a review into its work culture, a parody campaign from an advertising agency has been slammed for making light of those who spoke up on their mental health struggles.
Ad agency Don’t Panic is facing criticism for a campaign seemingly intended to support the staff who exposed a “toxic” workplace with a “cult of personality” in an open letter published last week. Over 100 BrewDog staff detailed their “genuine safety concerns” at the company and detailed a damaging culture that prioritized image over wellbeing.
In response to the “bad press”, Don’t Panic – which on its website lists Sky, Channel 4 and Save the Children as clients – issued a press release and posted the campaign on Twitter and LinkedIn to drum up submissions for new beer names as part of an “honest” campaign to help the brand recover.
“After some recent bad press for bullying their own employees, we've teamed up with BrewDog for their latest ‘honest’ advertising campaign,” it said in a LinkedIn and Twitter post that has since been changed. “Send us your own BrewDog beer name ideas in the comments and we’ll design the best ones, before pitching them directly to James Watt!”
Accompanying the post were images of Brewdog cans brandished with names such as ‘Culture of Fear Beer, Gaslit to Perfection’, ‘Stale Male Pale Ale’ and ‘Toxic AF, 0% human right’.
Criticism was quickly leveled at Don’t Panic for the initiative, which it has since clarified as a parody campaign with no links to BrewDog. Shivonne Graham, managing director at Women for Women International, wrote on LinkedIn that it was ”damaging and offensive particularly when the customers of BrewDog are likely to be the group worst affected by an inability to speak up and speak out about mental health and suicide – young men”.
She added: “This gives oxygen to their worst fears – that they will be ridiculed, that their peers don’t take it seriously, that they should stay silent... with the worst possible consequences.”
Jon Denby, an account lead at Wunderman Thompson UK, also hit back at the “tongue-in-cheek” approach. “Mental health isn’t a joke and it certainly isn’t a marketing or advertising opportunity,” he said.
Don’t Panic told The Drum that it has not worked with BrewDog or its founder James Watt and stressed it was a “parody BrewDog launch” aimed to be “in solidarity with all of the ex-BrewDog workers and agencies who have been mistreated”.
“The recent accusation on BrewDog, plus their track record of treating agencies poorly inspired our thinking. Additionally, BrewDog are known for releasing beer flavors to commemorate events eg Dominic Cumming’s untimely trip to Barnard Castle. It was in this spirit we came up with the parody.”
BrewDog also confirmed it had no involvement in the work. After the campaign was released by Don’t Panic, Watt took to LinkedIn to promise an independent review following the criticism from staff. He apologized for the ”lot of pain” staff have been caused and vowed the review would ”paint a comprehensive picture of the BrewDog culture at every level”.
”I am ultimately responsible for the culture. The letter that ex-colleagues wrote to us is 100% my fault,” he said.