As a student I don’t spend all my time studying. And of course I enjoy a nice beer. Now, even if everybody likes to think that they have a preference and a special taste in beer, beer is a largely homogenous market. They do all the same thing: it’s a brown-ish liquid with a bitter fresh taste that will eventually get you drunk. Period. That makes marketing beer a highly tricky game, even more so as markets are largely dominated by a few brands like Stella, Tennents, Heineken and the likes, which, in turn, are mostly part of large corporations like Scottish&Newcastle or AB InBev.
So along come these guys from Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire to produce beer and become the largest independent brewery in Scotland. How does that work?
Their products are, so they claim, made to be something that the owners of the company would drink themselves. This fosters an unconquerable link between the producer and the product. It is always easier to sell a product or idea if you are passionate about it. They are, and they know how much that’s worth. Their beers have a very distinct, hoppy taste, and come in quite unusual strengths (1.1%, 4%, 5.6%, 9.2%, 18%, 28%, 55%). The ethos they use in beer making is phenomenal: they are really aware and picky in which hops they use, which barley and which water. Of course, large corporations like InBev have dedicated buying teams for the ingredients, but this is different: BrewDog tries to source special ingredients. This leads to a marketing paradox: BrewDog is a beer not everyone can agree on. Many beers, especially the new light generation of 4% brews (Stella Quatre, Becks Vier), are almost without any taste so that a maximum audience can agree on it. So even though they choose their market to be smaller, they still sell – actually because of that. Because they don’t want to be part of that homogenous beer culture.
Find an enemy
If you walk into the BrewDog bar in Edinburgh, there’s a clear mission statement on the door “No Stella, no shots, no football – but we have boardgames.”. BrewDog tries to get away from two or three very distinct stereotypical beer drinkers: the wife beater, the footie and the young lad. The first two could be one and the same person, you’ve seen them: middle-aged men, sitting at the bar since noon and just drinking beer after beer after beer and complaining about everything. Watching football, betting at Ladbrokes or eating fish supper. The shots aim at young binge drinking kinds of persons, not what BrewDog is looking for.
But hey, if you are young and intelligent and smart, sociable and like board games, this is your place to stay, and have intelligent conversations while getting hammered. Well done.
Apart from the social enemy, there’s also a beer enemy: mass-produced beer, such as Becks, Stella or Tennents. BrewDog is a way of defining yourself by drinking beer, as somebody who does not settle with standards, but rather wants to be special. That’s actually a classic marketing strategy. However, their tone is more aggressive.
By agressive I mean elitist, maybe arrogant. They use some of the finest copy I have ever read, Robby Macbeathwas so kind to write down the copy of a bottle Punk IPA:
“This is not a lowest common denominator beer. This is an aggressive beer. We don’t care if you don’t like it.
We do not merely aspire to the proclaimed heady heights of conformity through neutrality and blandness.
It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or the sophistication to appreciate the depth, character and quality of this premium craft-brewed beer.
You probably don’t even care that this rebellious little beer has no preservatives or additives and only the finest fresh natural ingredients.
Just go back to drinking your mass-produced, bland, cheaply made, watered down lager and close the door behind you.”
Notice the stark contrast of words such as “rebellion”, “sophistication”, “character” or “craft-brewed” and “bland”, “cheap” or “watered down”. A similar aggressive approach can be found with another product from Scotland, Hendricks Gin – some of their copy starts with “The world has long been filled with ordinary things that conform to ones expectations”.
They keep their tone consistently up – they bottles have that special copy, their website uses the same tone and they have a lot of videos that help creating that brand image making BrewDog the very excellent beer it is. Have a look at one of their videos:
BrewDog do not list a marketing manager on their website: That leaves the impression that they might have perfected their marketing by rendering it superflous to employ a dedicated person, but, instead, having every managing employee in the same boat and having marketing as a fundamental function, and not a department.
Remember every little detail
Finally, BrewDog are incredibly attentive of the details: their bottles use brown glass to protect the beer, their bars are lovingly designed, their whole application of copy as well as the visuals are stunning. They put effort into everything, with the pay off that you are being served something that’s rather special.
And it is.
BrewDog is a company that seems to be incredibly aware (whether they know it or not) of marketing principles, but do not abuse their power. Rather, they decide to walk another way, and producing something that is well-crafted and well worth they money. I believe they are an example of how marketing should be done.
Yes, you could argue whether it’s good or not to be so bold and arrogant, and whether it’s noble to feed and grow these elitist views – but I don’t feel that they are fostering any kind of social segregation that would make their approach immoral.