A Household Name

A lot of what The Scottish Brewery does only makes sense when it occurs to you that they have one aim: to become a household name.

They simply don’t care if they’re loved or loathed, as long as they can break out of the beer geek ghetto and become the kind of brand that ‘normals’ have heard of. Their eyes are fixed firmly on the goal.

It explains their partnership with Tesco, which otherwise compromises their ‘punk’ brand, but gets their products and logo seen alongside Carlsberg et al; it explains their attention-at-any-cost approach to PR stunts;  and it explains this needy tweet which emerged at the height of the Diageogate PR triumph yesterday, when their story was trending worldwide:

We have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, what they’re doing to get where they want to be is pretty much constantly irritating; on the other, we’ve yet to see a British ‘craft brewery’ crossover into mainstream consciousness. If they make it, it might be a good thing in lots of ways, as long as they don’t pull the ladder up behind them.

31 thoughts on “A Household Name”

  1. They do seem to create mixed emotions in everyone I know! I love one or two of their beers, the rest are interesting but nothing more. I despise their attention-seeking marketing and PR stunts and how they are so hypocritical in pretending to be different while selling out to huge corporations. I also admire the way that they’ve built a multi-million pound business in a few short years and have opened many Britons eyes to awesome craft beer (not neccesarily theirs).

    Definitely a love-hate relationship!

  2. I got stuck in the loft once… I was feeling smug, I wouldn’t have to do the washing up, eat my greens, go to school… and then it dawned on me that noone gave a sh1t. I was left high and reasonably dry. The moral of the story? don’t burn your bridges, I mean don’t pull the ladder up behind you!

  3. Agree with Rob, I love to hate those boys!

    I hate their general brand but can’t deny it’s appeal to some people. The OTT marketing is irritating but undeniably effective as we all regularly talk about them. They are a ‘sell out’, but can anyone whole heartedly say they wouldn’t do the same in their shoes? I hate the thought of my company ‘selling out’ but can’t say I wouldn’t consider something that would allow me to do more of what I really wanted to do, and money allows you that freedom.

    I don’t think that they will pull the ladder up behind them as they do support lots of small breweries in their pub chain, which is all great for the industry.

  4. For my two cents worth, this has really nothing to do with BrewDog. It’s about a big business allowing an ethic to reside within its middle management that they decided to threaten an independent body putting on an awards show and attack a competitor through doing something on the path to fraud. That BrewDog then reacts as they do has zippo to do with the event.

    1. It does have to do with Brewdog in that had anyone else been selected as winner, Diageo probably wouldn’t have reacted in the way that they did

          1. Neither. Deserved to be the subject of an effort to falsify the granting of an award that carries marketplace benefit to the party who lobbied to be granted the award instead of the actual winner, BrewDog.

            No one is suggesting that BrewDog didn’t win the award. No one is suggesting they are not irritating. These are irrelevant points unless you are suggesting that the irritating are due a secondary level of propriety. It would actually be interesting to learn if under UK law this might qualify as civil fraud given the attempt to usurp the benefits associated with the award which were BrewDog’s alone to receive.

  5. ‘If you sell your products in Sainsbury’s you’re as punk as Jamie Oliver’

    My personal favourite BrewDog quote, written by Edinburgh beer retailer James Wroebel.

  6. Criticising them for selling their products through Sainsbury’s and Tesco is effectively criticising them for being successful. It’s that tedious artisanal snobbery that sees the only worthwhile products as those made by folk who won’t deal with “the man”.

    It’s very hard to see what their ultimate objective is, and I doubt whether really they know either. I tend to think they genuinely believe they are being radical and breaking the mould – I don’t think it’s just a cynical exercise.

    But it wouldn’t entirely surprise me a few years down the line to see a Ben & Jerry’s/Innocent Smoothies style corporate sell-out. Which is what usually happens to successful, edgy start-up brands in every industry.

    1. Just to be clear, we’re not saying it’s wrong for them to be in Tesco, just that it’s at odds with a lot of their messaging, e.g. rants about “corporate freaks” like Diageo.

    2. yes, if they weren’t saying “we hate The Man” I wouldn’t be sighing at them for selling to Tesco etc, it’s their position that is leading (most) people to call them on it, rather than an artisanal snobbery, to my mind (not that artisanal snobbery doesn’t exist, but I don’t think it’s the key cause here).

      I think yr right about the corporate sell-out in the future, although they’ll have to make sure they don’t sell too much “equity for punks” first…

  7. I was surprised when the tweets started coming round yesterday how many people took it as an opportunity to put the boot into brewdog.

  8. Alan, of course it has to do with BrewDog, but it has many aspects. For me it is particularly interesting how it shows the power of the social media with its surge of tweets during a few afternoon hours.

  9. Are you suggesting that BrewDog somehow deserved this? I agree that the reaction post incident is typical but that is not the story. The only new thing here is the attempted corruption by Diagio staff.

    1. This post is pretty tangential to Diageogate — it’s just that it elicited the Tweet we quoted which we thought provided an insight into Brewdog’s business plan.

      Just because Brewdog are annoying certainly doesn’t make Diageo’s business practices any less worrying or worthy of scrutiny. It was right that Diageo were trending rather than Brewdog, and right that the BBC explained in detail the relationship between Diageo (anonymous corporation) and specific brands such as Guinness. Again, ‘brand values’ (camaraderies, good times, fellowship) at odds with company behaviour.

      1. Fair enough. I don’t see the moment has having those sort of fine lines. Of the two drinks firms, I know who was more arrogant and self-serving.

  10. Astute observations all, but I would add another: The move into supermarkets is also about price positioning in the UK craft sector, as consistent with the strategy in their bars. Supermarket available craft imports like Goose Island IPA or Sierra Nevada Pale retail at a consistently higher price point than Punk IPA.
    Equally, Brewdog trumpets Nogneo, Mikeller and Stone (to name a few) in the UK: between duty and import these will always be more expensive products than Brewdog’s comparable offerings.
    The creation of a “Craft Consciousness” in the UK is vital to them as they harness the aspiration that surrounds premium import products, then undercut them. Its a double win but it requires them to be the gatekeepers of “good” beer. Witness the beer geeks who grumble about the variable quality of punk whilst buying slabs of it in cans.
    I think this is also reflected in the attitude they have towards other UK brewers. Those that receive the BD imprimatur are generally not competitive with them, Kernel for instance. Those that are tend to be subjected to the usual criticisms of being too boring, too big etc.
    If this pattern continues I suspect the ladder may well come up behind them.

    1. You make it sound like there was no craft beer on-trade giving space to foreign brewers in the UK before BD, when of course, several large cities had craft beer bars well before BD started opening places.

      I also wonder if they feel a sense of irony about seeing competitively priced imported US beers on the same shelves in supermarkets, when their own strategy was to take the US on and build market share for their brands there. Anecdotally, I’d have said SNPA and Goose Island IPA have travelled to our market better than Punk etc heading in the opposite direction.

      Of course, these are boys in a hurry. Still, Martyn Cornell’s observations about Diageo being bested by a social-media savvy, nimble machine sound spot-on to me.

      1. Sid- There’s no question that there were preexisting oasis’ of imports. I can’t help but feel, however, that a key part of BD’s plan (in the UK) is promoting the idea of ‘craft’ beer (particularly imports), then selling their own craft products cheaper. I’ll keep their recent availability at Makro in mind when they release their next Quadruple Mild served from a live porpoise.

  11. I think they are already a household name of sorts. They turn up on Jeff Randall on sky news regularly, The punk is often discounted in Sainsburys, my Mum has heard of them and the cans of punk are nice if you like that sort of thing. Plenty of trendy people seem to like their bars and are happy to pay over the odds for their offer. They also make money turning a healthy profit, the size of which will generate a degree of jealousy in their industry. They piss some people off, excite others. How well this is planned I don’t know. They can afford to piss some off, others that might affect their own supply chain they can’t. They are not nasty about Tesco but are about Coors and that does indicate a degree of self awareness in what they are doing

    1. Yes, they’re getting there. Pete Brown wrote a couple of years back about his mum having heard of them, too.

      Don’t think they’re more cynical other business people, but they certainly have a plan, and a competitive instinct. (Quite “The Man”-like.)

  12. Mudge – I’m always pleased to see Holt’s & Lees & Timothy Taylor & Williams Bros in the supermarket, to name but a few. The only reason I feel any different about BrewDog is that their marketing is based on them being different from all the established breweries, and on the idea that they’re in some way radical/counter-cultural/alternative/under the radar. Which, at this stage, is clearly nonsense. They’re starting to remind me of Peter Cook’s take-off of Greta Garbo, hiring an open car and a megaphone to tell the world that she wanted to be alone.

    If they make it, it might be a good thing in lots of ways, as long as they don’t pull the ladder up behind them.

    Unfortunately there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this is precisely what they’d do (example).

    they do support lots of small breweries in their pub chain

    That’s one way of looking at it. As far as I can tell they sell lots of bottles from small American breweries, and a few from a handful of Scandinavian and Dutch brewers. Nothing from Britain, and nothing from anything even slightly like the usual suspects in Europe (the Trappists, Affligem, Huyghe, Bosteels, etc, etc – perhaps because you can get all of those elsewhere, making silly pricing less viable).

    Love the beer, though. If they could just calm down a bit and get back to making good beer…

    1. The particular brewery that sprang to mind was Hawkshead. To see their beer on the shelves of Tesco, you think “aren’t they doing well?” not “they have sold out”.

    2. “If they could just calm down a bit and get back to making good beer…”

      That, in essence, is what I passionately believe in doing day-in day-out. If every single brewer out there did nothing but concentrate on making good beer then the UK ale industry would be in a far healthier state.

      I completely understand the need for breweries to devote resources to marketing, PR etc etc but if the brewer is not capable or competent enough to produce good beer day-in day-out then they are in the wrong business.

      In case you hadn’t noticed I’m rather opinionated, I’m seriously starting my own blog to rant about this sort of thing but I’m too busy brewing good beer day-in day-out haha ;P

      *tongue out of cheek*

      1. *considering starting my own blog*

        I think I might do an SH and alienate as many people as I please if I wrote down all my thoughts on beer, brewing and the UK beer industry,

        1. And this proves how bad I am at working blogs… I meant to say that that is the reason I’m not starting one, I’d have to sanitise it too much!

          Surely there should be a way to edit comments??

  13. For me this is more about Diageo dirty tricks then anything else. The fact that it was against a brewery who are for all their faults hugely PR & social media savvy just meant that the whole thing was always going to get blown up into a big story. Diageo picked on the wrong brewery.

    Doesn’t make me more inclined to change my opinions of Brewdog, but it does make me less inclined towards Diageo as a business.

  14. I am pretty sure that the Sex Pistols, Clash, Ramones, etc, all had recording and distribution relationships with multinational companies. Even Crass did not take the “punk” ethic quite so far as to not allow their records to be sold in shops.

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