BrewDog’s bubble bursts as the Pink IPA launch leaves a bad taste

Without fear or favour, Richard J. Hillgrove VI tips the tables up on world leaders, brands and countries who all often think they can hide behind the smoke and mirrors via their communications professionals. Bang On takes a full throttle, punk approach to dissecting and analysing modern PR and marketing. It's not for the faint hearted....

BrewDog’s marketers might well have their tail between their legs after their latest punk party piece fell flat.

Launching Pink IPA as a spoof of its own Punk IPA beer, with a promise to sell it a fifth cheaper in its bars to women, was an attempt at irony and sarcasm to highlight gender pay inequality. But it hasn’t quite reached the parts the brand hoped for.

Instead, it’s been branded a cheap, cynical, marketing stunt. It turns out ironic sexist branding is hard to distinguish from normal sexist branding.

BrewDog is well known for its wacky, off-the-wall campaigns, and was no doubt full of good intentions as it launched ahead of International Women’s Day. But, let’s face it, when you need a hashtag to explain the humour, it's most likely a fail.

This Guardian take was particularly bang on. It said: "it has fallen into its own trap and proved that women dislike the taste of lazy faux-feminism as much as 'lady-friendly' Doritos crisps" and "this is capitalism in action".

Tapping into the women's market makes good financial sense and BrewDog can be applauded for donating 20% of sales to organisations fighting gender equality, but too many women were bound to see the pink as patronising and off colour.

Sarcasm in marketing like the Pink IPA stunt can be dangerous territory.

In a statement on its website, BrewDog wrote that the product was “satirically dubbed ‘Beer For Girls’”, adding that the aim was to “expose sexist marketing to women”. Like hell it was.

And coming from the two men who changed their name to Elvis? It really was sarcasm, and not in a satirical way.

Sarcasm does not work well on social media. Social intelligence agency Infegy identifies a couple of major issues with it.

They are that sarcastic expressions vary so much they need context to be fully understood. On top of that, too many people don't even understand what sarcasm is or how to express it – so what chance does your basic algorithm have?

Then there’s the whole pink issue itself. There are some things you just can't joke about because there isn't enough distance. Take pink for girls. Increasingly, there’s a backlash among women against all things pink. They’re sick of it.

If girlie pink were by now a retro memory, BrewDog’s labels could be classed as ironic. But while so many women are still on the frontline fighting Pinkageddon, they're not going to appreciate the joke.

There’s a slight whiff of inauthenticity, too, as according to The Guardian, BrewDog has “disclosed a 2.8% median gender pay gap in favour of men across its global business, which employs 1,000 people. It is yet to file its official figure for the UK, where most staff are employed.”

That’s far better than the 18.1% average gender pay gap throughout the UK, but we still don’t know to what extent the beer pot might be calling the hop kettle black.

The quandary now with the #MeToo phenomenon is where to next for marketers wanting to align with it or react to it. Just how should advertisers tip their hat to it and make a difference without wading through treacle or dropping a real clanger?

Brands now need to be super cautious that their new clever marketing stunts are just that – not laddish pranks which patronise or objectify women.

Even the Manchester-born online phenomenon LADbible is no longer what it says on the tin, moving content away from obviously misogynistic laddish and sexist content.

LADbible is now the 10th most visited website in the UK, ahead of any news site apart from the BBC and only one place behind Twitter. It’s part of the media trend away from print, using the advent of video sharing on Facebook (the source of half of all its traffic) to fill the gap left by suffering lads' mags.

During last year’s rebrand, a company spokesman explained the new approach: "It's about being an individual who thrives on humour, community – treating others right and being treated right by others."

YouGov analysed the British ‘lad’ back in 2015, which now seems a million miles away after #MeToo.

Analysing the profiles of 3,300 members who describe themselves as 'laddish', YouGov Profiles reveal a portrait of what makes them different to the rest of the population.

The quintessential lad is a young, northern man at the lower end of the income scale. Sports are his defining interest. He prefers dogs by far, and his food tastes are as manly as they come – chips, burgers, bacon sandwiches and fried chicken are the most strongly correlated with British lads.

It’s the attraction to a certain kind of humour, however, that makes the profile ring true. Often accused of passing off offensive jokes as “banter”, the quintessential lad “finds toilet humour quite funny” and describes himself as "funny" and “barmy”.

The Inbetweeners – four irreverent young lads in search of sex, beer and pranks – is the strongest correlated movie and TV show on the entertainment page. Jeremy Clarkson’s individual un-pc brand is popular and Cheryl (now reverted to Tweedy) ranks highly in the music section.

Sports brands, betting companies and lager manufacturers take the British lad’s custom – and Asda is by far his preferred supermarket. The Astra and Corsa are well-established boy racer cars. The quintessential lad is most likely to drive a Vauxhall.

The picture wouldn’t be complete without the media, and the statistical profile fits the stereotype with striking accuracy. In print, the classic British lad reads The Sun, football magazine FourFourTwo and lads mag Nuts.

There might also be some ladettes in the subject group, with gossip magazines Heat and Take a Break scoring highly. In digital, the modern lad follows Rihanna and The Only Way is Essex’s Mark Wright on Twitter, and, of course, his top Facebook page is none other than LADbible with its more than 31 million likes.

BrewDog occupies a new grey area. They’re clever, punk marketers but they also have a faint aroma of stale ale house about them.

It suggests a laddish marketing team who struggle to understand what makes today’s women tick, even though a statement from the craft brewers claims the campaign came from “a team of talented women at BrewDog”.

Acknowledging it didn’t land the joke, the statement adds: “We should have done more to show that this element of the campaign was tongue in cheek."

Forget the jokes, maybe now it’s time to get serious. More transparency might help it them off the hook.

Let’s see exactly where BrewDog stands on parity and diversity. Displaying its credentials, full disclosure, could be their best way out of the doghouse.

Get The Drum Newsletter

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