Good Beer Hunting

BrewDog Aims Wide, Misses the Mark with Pink IPA Campaign

Pink IPA.jpg

BrewDog set the internet ablaze this week with the announcement of Pink IPA, a rebadged version of its best-selling Punk IPA. The launch of the (self-described) satirically monikered “beer for girls”—complete with bright pink label—is set to coincide with International Women’s Day, which takes place tomorrow, March 8.

BrewDog says it intends to use the beer to highlight the inequality of the gender pay gap by donating 20% of the proceeds of both this beer as well as the regular Punk IPA to The Women’s Engineering Society and 9to5, a U.S. organization dedicated to putting working women’s issues on the public agenda.

Pink IPA will be available in South Korea, Ireland, Germany, The Netherlands, the U.S., and the United Kingdom. Anyone identifying as a woman purchasing the beer at one of the brewery’s bars or taprooms will also receive 20% off at the point of sale.

The launch of Pink IPA is the latest in a long line of socially, politically, and environmentally minded campaigns from the Scotland-based beer maker. While the team behind it may have had the best intentions, the resulting social media campaign, which caused the phrase “Pink IPA” to trend on Twitter, provoked a considerable amount of negative backlash.

Many did not see the campaign’s satire, accusing the brewery of missing the mark entirely. And the backlash wasn’t limited to the UK, either, with folks in the U.S. also finding fault with the beer. The consensus was that, despite the beer explaining its purpose on the reverse of the label, that the immediate name, color, and tagline of the beer would do little to educate the average shopper on the issue of gender inequality.

According to its most recent annual report, published in April 2017, BrewDog's annual production volumes were a reported 290,000hl (247,000bbl). This figure doesn't include production at its recently commissioned Columbus, Ohio facility. With multinational distribution and listings in several major UK supermarkets including Tesco and Waitrose, there is a risk that Pink IPA could only be taken at face value by the mainstream consumer, with the key message on its reverse going ignored. 

“The fact that the gender pay gap is still an issue in 2018 shows that a lot of lip service is being paid, but not enough action is being taken to tackle inequality,” BrewDog Global Head of Marketing Sarah Warman said in a press statement. “We want to accelerate change by empowering more women to make their voices heard and calling out industries and employees that need to do more. With Pink IPA, we are making a statement the only way we know how—with beer.”

The release isn’t the first time BrewDog’s used a satirical voice in a marketing campaign. In February 2014, it aimed to highlight homophobic discrimination at the Sochi Winter Olympics with a beer called Hello, My Name is Vladimir, which used the provocative tagline “not for gays.” The company also received backlash from the transgender community in November 2015, when it released No Label, a beer intending to celebrate the diversity of London’s Soho neighborhood.

BrewDog co-founder James Watt took to Twitter to defend the most recent campaign by stating that it was “designed and conceived by some of the amazing women in our senior management team.”  He was joined in the defense of Pink IPA by BrewDog USA CEO Tanisha Robinson.

“We (the women) of BrewDog launched Pink IPA to address gender pay inequality,” Robinson said via Twitter. “This ‘beer for girls’ is an overt parody on the tone-deaf, failed attempts by companies to market products to women.”

Despite the brewery’s other satirical campaigns, which include a 2015 crowdfunding video which saw founders James Watt and Martin Dickie accused of mocking sex workers, the homeless, and the transgender community, BrewDog still defends the use of these controversial methods. This is perhaps unsurprising, as the oft-outspoken Watt seldom admits to making mistakes. The backlash and subsequent explanation behind the purpose of Pink IPA perhaps proves that the intended goal of this particular campaign isn’t as obvious as BrewDog itself may think.

Is BrewDog losing touch with its core audience as it remains the fastest growing brewery in the UK? It’s worth mentioning that some of the brewery’s more positive campaigns receive a fraction of the attention as those that stir the pot. Comparisons could also be drawn between this one and Stone (a brewery Watt has often cited as an influence), which found itself apologizing following now-deleted tweets from its Arrogant Bastard Twitter account, which saw the brewery accused of mocking the idea of sexual consent.

Like Stone, BrewDog is now a brewery with multinational influence—its actions extend farther than the U.S. or UK beer bubbles. Although it may have had the best intentions in this instance, it now must contemplate how to tone down its bark in a beer market that’s not afraid of biting back.

—Matthew Curtis