The truth behind Brewdog's "honest" ads

The truth behind Brewdog's

You know what, BrewDog really changed the game when they said no to any form of advertising and decided instead to let their product speak for itse- wait, what’s that? They’re currently in the middle of a massive ad campaign running on both TV and the sides of London buses? OK, never mind.  

Just six years ago, BrewDog co-founder James Watt said he would “rather set fire to his money than spend it on advertising”, which may make paying for all the advertising he has now commissioned a little tricky. However, the hops head honcho wants you to know that this campaign is, in actual fact, “the most honest ad ever”.

On the posters and buses, a can of the brand’s famous Punk IPA sits, surrounded by white space, with the word “advert” or “advert on a bus” written above in black, block capitals. The television spot is similarly sparse and, somewhat puzzlingly given Punk IPA’s name, features a speed metal track playing over the static image.

Honest the campaign may be; revolutionary it is not. BrewDog simply realised what most brands have previously: that in order to make your product more visible, you need to promote it through some kind of paid activity. The press release that has been sent out to accompany these “honest” ads confirms this, saying “craft beer’s penetration is just 14% among UK adults. If BrewDog wants to continue to grow that level needs to rise.”

So, in essence, their anti-advertising campaign is really just good old-fashioned marketing to gain market share rather than some radical, punk statement about capitalism and the disenfranchised consumer. And it’s not been done in a casual throwaway fashion either, despite what the press release may have you believe.

The first ad spot launched during a break in an episode of Game of Thrones. Not an old episode either, one of the new ones that everyone was super satisfied with and in no way wish hadn’t aired.  

As Marketing Week points out, this tactical media buy “shows BrewDog knows how important and effective advertising is when it comes to building a brand and scaling up.” Their use of agency Uncommon (who have recently been helping ITV rebrand) also shows a certain awareness of the need for strategy, even if this does culminate in a very simple, “honest” image being used. It’s not even just marketing, its savvy, expensive marketing.

As well as saying he would rather set fire to his money, co-founder Watt added that advertising is “the antithesis of everything we stand for and everything we believe in. It’s a medium that is shallow, it’s fake and we want nothing to do with it.” And the brand did incredibly well without it for a while – after all, BrewDog is currently the best-selling craft beer in the UK with 70 bars and more than 1,000 employees all over the world.

However, although there may one day be a plausible and effective alternative to marketing and advertising, it does not yet exist and that is something the beer brand has had to come to terms with – no matter how much they still claim to be so punk that they’re above it.