Comment Consumer Brand Comms Corporate Reputation
11.06.2021

How The High And Mighty Have Further To Fall

How The High And Mighty Have Further To Fall

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By Jessica Kirby

It felt appropriate to sleep on the BrewDog debacle before writing any thoughts on it. Give the initial dust chance to settle. See what comes out from both sides.

Yesterday was somewhat of a whirlwind for one of the golden brands of our time. It claims to be the UK’s fastest growing brand on its LinkedIn page and with rumours of a floatation happening this year, it is comparable to Usain Bolt running the Olympic race to only trip on his shoelace right before the finish line. BrewDog has built its entire brand on being morally-driven, responsible, and doing good for people and the planet. But intentionally raising yourself so high above other brands gives you much further to fall and this is exactly what is happening.

I wanted to get an understanding of how people were feeling beyond the social media commentary on thi topic so I ran a quick Twitter poll yesterday as a litmus test for numbers. If the results are a reflection of how the masses are feeling, then the BrewDog team should be going into overdrive right now figuring out what action they can take to limit the damage.

Personal brand trumps product quality

72% of people said they had lost faith and would not be buying the products again while 20% said they would consider purchasing BrewDog products again, only if serious action was taken. A measly 8% said the products were so good that they would overlook this behaviour.

Now it would be unfair to dispute the quality of BrewDog products – they have won an abundance of awards over the years and the meteoric growth shows consumers love what they bring to the beer category. But what this does show, is that no matter how wonderful your products are, there is a line and when you overstep it, even your loyal customers can’t see past that.

Why would people not just buy the product and say that the business has nothing to do with them – they just want great tasting beer? Well, a lot can be said for the growth of personal brand. Social media has made consumers far more aware of how they are perceived amongst peers and strangers. Consumers want to associate themselves with brands doing good. It makes them feel and look good. Continuing to buy BrewDog products would almost condone their behaviour and it then becomes a reflection on a consumer’s character and moral compass.

Values need to be taken seriously

Reading through the BrewDog charter, there is a sad irony in their values.

WITHOUT US, WE ARE NOTHING.

This is a huge statement and one that has not been lived up to. Playing with the language, it demonstrates the power of the employee. They have the ability to make the brand a roaring success or tear it down to nothing.

When a brand creates its values, it knows they are something to be held to, particularly when it comes to employer brand. Those that parade values that aren’t true are walking a fine line, it only takes the straw to break the camel’s back before a disgruntled employee goes to GlassDoor or social media.

Coming back to my Usain Bolt analogy, the shoelace here is living the values in BrewDog’s case. There is no point steaming ahead, taking the category by storm and all this time have hidden secrets behind closed doors. It’s a ticking timebomb and when it goes off, there’s no stopping the chaos that ensues.

Where the BrewDog case gets interesting, is when we look at the sheer volume of complaints and signatures on the letter. By the time it went live yesterday there were over 100 names. That is 5% of the 2000 employees in the business. And that is only the beginning. These types of whistle-blowing activities become a catalyst for others to come forward, as has already been demonstrated on social media.

Responding versus addressing

Credit to the employees for an incredibly well-crafted letter. The time and energy poured into it was clear from the first paragraph. Anyone reading it would really feel for them. The likelihood is that reading that letter, people reflect on negative jobs they’ve had in their lives and can emotionally relate.

What this does mean, is that the BrewDog response needed to be bang on the money and in my opinion, it missed the mark. I’m sure any comms professionals reading this will feel a similar way. We’ve all written statements in the past so like me, I’m sure you sat crafting your own response in your head of how it should have been handled. The statement from James was lacklustre at best. There are times when you have to commit to action right there and then in the statement to avoid more tribulation but this was missing. It spoke of speaking with employees but no timelines, no immediacy.

Who knows what more fallout we’ll see from this in the coming weeks and months but it is certainly going to be one to watch. It is a word of warning to brands to make sure that they are buttoned up and that purpose and responsible business is not something you’re parading without substantiation.