How Brands Can Engage With Political Issues Without Screwing It Up

The beer company Brewdog is currently facing a backlash online for launching a new ‘Pink IPA’.

A statement on Brewdog’s website said that the product was “satirically dubbed ‘Beer For Girls’, adding that the aim was to “expose sexist marketing to women”.

The company added that although the beer itself was the same, the packaging was pink. They also said that they’ll be giving the proceeds from Punk IPA and Pink IPA sold over the next four weeks to charities that fight inequality and support women. Anyone who identifies as female will also get 20% off in all BrewDog bars.

Brewdog defended the idea, calling out others that take their decision to have the beer as “pink” at face value – adding that it was time to show that enough was enough.

I don’t doubt Brewdog’s intentions here, but this campaign was poorly executed. Despite the good intentions, Brewdog’s IPA will look much the same once the product is out there. On the shelves, “Pink IPA” will look exactly the same as all of the lazy marketing that it intends to satirize. And it isn’t doing much to solve the problem.

While BrewDog argues that “pinkwashing” one of their main products helps to raise awareness of the current status quo, it is a status quo that women are all too aware of. Just a few weeks ago the CEO of PepsiCo came under fire for revealing plans for “Lady Friendly” crisps.

Although research suggests that consumers respond better to brands that display corporate responsibility, with 73% of people believing that companies should do more than just offer a product or service, brands need to show caution and not just “rush in”.

Pepsi is a prime example of a brand that appeared to clumsily jump on a social issue and fell flat on its face. Then again, with 57% of consumers said to be willing to boycott brands who do not share their social beliefs – it’s one many brands are willing to take.

Brands that want to take the plunge and engage with social causes need to bear the following in mind:

  • Be careful – Both Target and Starbucks have suffered recently for weighing in on political issues (the trans bathroom issue and Trump’s immigration executive order) where decent people can disagree.
  • Focus on less controversial issues – Stella Artois’ “Buy A Lady A Drink” campaign has raised $1m for while raising awareness of the clean water crisis.
  • Don’t patronize – Whether it is the tone-deaf Kendall Jenner Pepsi campaign or Pink IPA, it’s vital that brands are seen to be genuine in their support for these causes, and not seeking to capitalize. Brands very rarely get a second chance if they screw up the execution.
  • If you use humour, don’t rely on everyone getting the joke – If you are going to be ironic, don’t assume everyone knows your market as well as you do. This campaign was in response to  the non-ironic launch of Jane Walker, Johnnie Walker’s temporary rebrand designed to both mark International Women’s Day and get women drinking more whisky.




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