Wednesday, 23 September 2015

No Such Thing as Bad Publicity? How Far is Too Far in Alcohol Advertising?

Neon signs set

The marketing of alcohol is the producer's key to the lock on your wallet or purse, the password to your bank account or the subconscious voice in your head which tells you 'You must have this! Go now and thrust your wages into the hand of the nearest off licence owner and rejoice in your choice!'

Companies will use all of their wily marketing skills to persuade you to take their product home, be it a catchy tune, an awesome slogan or a massive claim that an entire nation only drinks their beer (Castlemaine XXXX, stand up & take a bow...). 

However, as the race to become evermore standout and noticeable with promotion starts to become more and more competitive, there are some people who have taken advertising to a level which, to some, can be see to be as controversial as Jeremy Corbyn's choice of jumper.

A couple of weeks back, I was alerted to a bit of promotion by the craft beer company, Brewdog, which has caused a large amount of uproar among a lot of people. Brewdog are a company based in Ellon, Aberdeen and have a history of full-tilt advertising to make the hardiest of drinkers blush and the tabloid press go apoplectic in rage (they brew a 32% beer called Tactical Nuclear Penguin, and they also conducted a funeral for commercially produced beer in the middle of Stockholm when they opened a bar there), but this time it seems that they have pushed it a bit too far.**

Reported in The Scotsman at the start of the month, Brewdog have taken to the internet to advertise their crowdfunding projects, but have decided to push the buttons of many people by parodying transgender, prostitutes and homeless people under the guise of 'comic promotion'. Some people would say that its lighthearted, irreverent, taking the mick out of themselves. Other people see it as bad taste, harmful to public perception of those people in society and very 'anti-Punk' (their tagline for the crowdfunding is 'Equity for Punks'). 

By putting this out there, it's pretty evident that they sought a bit of a reaction, and as Oscar Wilde said a fair old while back 'there is only one thing in the world that is worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about'. But is this really the best way to show the world the good stuff you produce? In my opinion, probably not...

Another advertising 'faux pas' was recently committed by a brand called Premier Estate Wines, a company that supplies wines to off licence chains and independent merchants. Promoting their Aussie wines through an online video, they did the classic thing of getting an attractive woman to talk longingly about the quality of their Australian Shiraz. Nothing too scandalous there. 

However, watch the video which showcases the liquid and you can see that maybe positioning the glass where it was and using their tagline of 'Taste the Bush' would raise a few eyebrows and rattle the cage of many a woman. Add to that the twitter campaign to win a case of wine by tweeting 'I want to #tastethebush' and you have a recipe for controversy. Using pretty women to coax people to buy things is pretty standard these days, but starting to sexualize a simple bottle of Shiraz and you are swimming in rougher waters.

A still from Brewdog's recent controversial video. Photo: YouTube
Sometimes, marketing teams can become blind to the message they are sending across when it comes to their advertising campaigns. Take Bud Light - a classic US beer that sends a message of a refreshing, light and all round popular beer for every person. It stands to reason that they want to embrace their fun-lovin' image by getting a slice of the social media pie and start their own hashtag campaign. So they did, and #upforwhatever was born. 

On its own, there were many things you could do with it to bring the brand to the public's attention. However, when they decided to position Bud Light as the beer "for removing the word No from your vocabulary for the night", and then plastered the tagline on the beer bottle, seemingly unwittingly promoting rape culture, you do wonder how the people responsible didn't foresee any problems. Cue uproar, social media outcries and grovelling apologies from the company.

Companies are always going to want to be seen as doing something different and wanting to push the envelope. It sets them apart and, most importantly, keeps them in the public eye. However, when they cross the boundaries and start to seemingly insult and objectify the people to whom they should be selling (sometimes in ways that it could be foreseen would court controversy) they risk alienating far more people than the group they are subjecting to 'banter'.

As famous marketeer Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you've said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." It might be handy for a few brands to bear that in mind...

* These are my opinions and do not represent Vinspire as a whole.

** For balance, it's worth noting we've written lots of positive things about Brewdog before, and do actually like an awful lot of what they do.

What do you think? Feel free to comment on Twitter, Facebook or comment below!

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