As the beer Twittersphere erupted, the latest ill-judged publicity stunt from BrewDog seems to have successfully obscured rather than promoted the fact that the Scottish craft brewer is adding a TV network to its burgeoning empire.
This is certainly a bold move: The BrewDog Network (after a hasty redaction of the beer.porn original spoof, you click straight through) is a video-on-demand network aimed ‘at the craft beer generation’.
As such, it will contain new BrewDog-originated content, with founders James Watt and Martin Dickie picking up where they left off after their US series Brew Dogs was cancelled, with programmes about cocktails, drinking, travel, brewing, burgers and more beer. At £4.99 a month, it’s in the same ballpark as leading streaming sites, such as Netflix and Amazon.
It’s almost impossible to evaluate the thinking behind this without the context of the biggest PR disaster in the company’s history, but let’s try. Let’s pretend for a moment that BrewDog simply announced the launch of a new TV subscription service without a stunt that alienated vast swathes of their audience. Why would they make such a move?
It’s fashionable in craft beer to be shy of marketing, to pretend it’s a dirty word. It’s all about the beer, right?
This has never really been true of the UK craft beer boom. This summer, weeks apart, Beavertown announced it was selling a minority stake to Heineken, and Fourpure announced it was selling entirely to Australia’s Lion.
Both are fast-growing London breweries that create excellent beer. Yet Beavertown’s minority sale was greeted by howls of anguish, while Fourpure’s sale met widespread indifference.
Why? Because as well as brewing great beer, Beavertown also carefully built a brand that stood for something quite specific in the eyes of its drinkers.
Likewise, while BrewDog may appear to eschew conventional marketing in favour of headline-grabbing stunts, the brand is about so much more than the reputation of the beer. From the start, BrewDog has cultivated a very consistent set of values that appeal to its base as much as the beer does. People who criticise the Equity for Punks scheme on its financial merits miss the point of it: BrewDog’s ‘punks’ aren’t looking for the best return on their investment; they’re paying to be part of the organisation, the movement.
Look at it from its perspective as a brand and BrewDog is already well along the path of numerous line extensions that seek to maximise its potential value. It’s already launched a global chain of bars, a distillery, several books and even a hotel.
The bars and hotel give the brand a physical manifestation. Every decent marketer in the world will tell you millennial consumers – BrewDog’s ‘craft beer generation’ – seek experiences rather than simple products. Now, the TV channel provides experience in a different way.
Conventional advertising seems to be all but dead in the beer world. Potentially, the BrewDog Network provides – in the kind of marketing language BrewDog would never use publicly, but certainly subscribe to internally – opportunities to engage consumers and deepen the relationship with them, building their affinity with the brand.
But there’s a difference between espousing values in slogans and stunts and living them. BrewDog do a remarkably good job at making the brand live in their bars thanks to superb staff training. The equivalent with a TV channel is that every show must live up to the brand promise.
Beer is notoriously difficult to do well on TV – it doesn’t have the visual appeal of cooking shows. Shots of people drinking golden or amber-coloured liquids and trying to evoke what’s special about them quickly get boring, so shows have to rely on borrowed or tangential interest – they have to be about people and places if they’re going to be in any way watchable.
All of which means the idea is only as good as the content.
So how does the content look? Well, the previews that are accessible on the site focus on boisterous bros (almost entirely) having crazy fun in the awesome world of craft beer. There’s definitely an audience for this. But I’m not sure even the most ardent fan would want to watch it for hours on end. And even if they did, the offering feels very slim compared to that of other streaming services around the same price. Like Equity for Punks, they’re only really going to sign up if they’re already a fan, looking for more ways to connect.
BrewDog is probably the only beer brand that could attempt this without being written off at the first hurdle. But the stakes are high: if this fails, it’s a very public, very visible failure.
Even without the beer.porn backlash, it’s one that could damage the parent brand, finally exposing its limits.