BrewDog is at it again.
The beer brand announced that it would be boycotting the World Cup in Qatar as a result of its shameful record on human rights. This includes the abuse and exploitation of those who built the stadium, and the discrimination of women and LGTBQ+ people.
Fair enough, you might think. I can get on board with a brand that supports that message.
But do they?
Well, at a glance, the PR stunt (let’s be honest – that’s what it is) looks good.
We’re donating all profits made from Lost Lager sold during the World Cup to causes fighting human rights abuses. pic.twitter.com/5OTA9Gn71G
— BrewDog (@BrewDog) November 7, 2022
And I saw plenty of people applauding them for it.
But this campaign backfired pretty quickly.
Twitter users were quick to point out a few things.
1. They are still showing the World Cup in their pubs
2. Yes, they will make a donation to ‘fight human rights abuses’ from sales of their Lost Lager. But people highlighted that if they are showing the games, they’ll make a tidy profit off all the other beers they sell too
3. They sell BrewDog Punk IPA in Qatar
I’m clearly not a fan of BrewDog. They have a hideous record of treating staff poorly, have faced serious allegations of misogyny and bullying from those right at the top, and have even stiffed competition winners – a nice way to treat fans of your brand. Plus, they completely go against the punk ethos, while exploiting it extensively to sell more beer.
If you’re looking at this latest campaign as being a success from a PR standpoint, despite all the negative coverage and comments, it certainly did get people talking about them. Mission accomplished, in that sense.
However, BrewDog is most certainly not the only brand guilty of virtue signalling; from greenwashing, to taking an interest in social issues for clout, to being seen as champions of diversity (when the opposite is in fact true), countless companies spring to mind for me.
Ultimately, companies are out to make money. They may, or more likely, may not, genuinely care about the causes they vocally claim to support. For many, it’s purely a PR exercise.
That being said, businesses really do need to be careful with how they communicate their brand values.
If you’re going to take a stand – stick to your guns.
I didn’t really expect Lush to bin off Meta-owned social media platforms Facebook and Instagram for good, citing their apparent disregard for users’ mental health as the motivation for doing so – but almost a year on, the accounts have 0 new posts.
Despite sticking to their guns, at the time they were criticised for ‘performative activism’. Smaller brands without the established brand presence Lush has would likely struggle without social media to help promote their products and services and so abandoning these platforms would have been almost impossible for them – no matter what they may morally feel is right.
And that’s not all. Lush was criticised from one side for being anti-police as part of their spy cops campaign, before being criticised by the other side for being pro-police after the UK CEO donated self-care gifts to the Metropolitan Police. These conflicting messages didn’t go unnoticed by fans of the brand.
These days, the boycotting of brands that state their political or social allegiances is commonplace.
After Nike made American Football player, Colin Kaepernick a brand ambassador, some customers ‘boycotted’ the brand by burning their Nike products (not really sure how that one worked as they’d already paid for them, but some people aren’t very smart, I guess).
Proud to take part in @PrideBrighton this weekend to celebrate their 30th year, and even prouder of our LGBTQ+ Network who work hard every day to make sure everyone can feel at home at Wickes #BrightonPride #LetsDoItWithPride #LGBTWithTheT pic.twitter.com/Yl4jP69gKC
— WICKES (@Wickes) August 6, 2022
So what’s the answer?
Consumers aren’t stupid. They want brands to be genuine.
You can’t please everybody. Not every single one of your customers will agree with your ethos. But if you are saying your business is built around a set of values, it needs to truly be part of the company culture, and it shouldn’t just be about boosting your company’s image.
In a nutshell – if your brand is planning on taking a stand, it’d better be able to back it up.