The Advertising Standards Agency (‘ASA’) has ruled against BrewDog for misleading marketing. In this post, we look at BrewDog’s recent run-ins with the ASA and why humour can backfire when promoting a brand.
In 2021, BrewDog launched their promotional campaign for 10 solid gold Punk IPA cans hidden in packs of Punk IPA. Winners received a gold can worth £15K, 10K of BrewDog shares and a VIP brewery tour. The post included an image of a gold-coloured can of BrewDog Punk IPA. BrewDog tweeted that each can was a ‘solid gold 24 carat beer can’. Customers complained that this was misleading as they would receive a a gold plated can, not a solid gold can. BrewDog claimed that ‘solid’ was used in error in their tweets. BrewDog also contended that a solid gold 330ml can would have had a staggering $500k price tag and therefore it was unreasonable for customers to believe they would be receiving solid gold.
Similarly in 2022, the ASA ruled against BrewDog for using ‘one of your five a day’ in their marketing emails for their fruit-flavoured beer. The ASA considered this to be misleading. Whilst it was intended to be humorous and not a factual claim, the ASA ruled that some consumers would be uncertain as to whether an alcoholic beverage with fruit content counted as a portion of fruit under the government’s ‘5 A Day’ advice, or whether some of the nutritional benefits of a ‘5 A Day’ portion would be retained. BrewDog argued that as the marketing email was only sent to existing BrewDog customers who had previously opted-in to receiving their marketing emails, they believed those customers were likely to be aware of BrewDog’s playful marketing style and regard the remark as ‘tongue-in-cheek’.
In both instances, BrewDog’s actions were held to be misleading under CAP Code rule 3.1 (misleading advertising). The 2021 gold can ruling was also held to breach rules 3.7 (substantiation) and 8.1 (promotional marketing). Although, as BrewDog claimed, it is obvious that beer would not count as one of your five a day as well as the fact that an up-and-coming brewery would not be handing out solid gold cans, the ASA disagreed.
Whilst BrewDog was intending to be creative and engage consumers with light-hearted promotions, the rulings highlight the care that brands need to take when intending to be tongue-in-cheek. Although some consumers may understand when a claim is intended to be a parody, the ruling serves as a useful reminder that humour does not invalidate the need to comply with the ASA Codes. Claims should therefore not be made unless they are 100% factually accurate.
With the growth of internet shopping and new small businesses emerging at a rapid rate, it’s often difficult for brands to engage customers especially where there is a lot of competition. In one respect, BrewDog’s marketing to date has been creative, disruptive in a crowded market, and engages customers to purchase their products. On the other hand, it relies on customers being able to determine what is playful marketing and what is reliable, factual information.
The ASA must draw the line where it balances brand creativity with realistic consumer perception in line with false advertising. A key take home for BrewDog’s (un)true claims is to not state your product is something that it isn’t, even if it is in a humorous and playful way.