Why I still love BrewDog

Pint of BrewDog

BrewDog’s latest marketing stunt is a mock “beer for girls”, Pink IPA (the same as Punk IPA, but with a pink label). It’s raised a lot of eyebrows, and generated the requisite outrage on Twitter.

But the outrage merchants are doing exactly what BrewDog wanted. Just like the point I made yesterday about outrage playing into the hands of the offenders.

BrewDog made its mark with over-the-top publicity stunts and shock tactics. This is how BrewDog has done it all along. See the Controversy section of the BrewDog Wikipedia page for a quick primer. It even misses an example or two that I can think of.

BrewDog knows exactly what it is doing. I once worked very briefly with a former senior BrewDog marketing manager. She told me the success of the company is 50% product and 50% marketing. Without one or the other, it wouldn’t work.

In the interests of full disclosure, I say all this as a card-carrying BrewDog shareholder.

It is interesting to follow the progress of BrewDog as it gets larger. The scrutiny is bound to become more intense, and it could reach the point where shock tactics will no longer make sense.

BrewDog has just opened its second bar in Edinburgh. Their first bar is in the Cowgate, a street that in its worst moments (at 3am on a Sunday morning) is like one long semi-underground outdoor urinal. The bar itself is like a tiny hovel. Given its popularity, the bar is quite uncomfortable to visit.

This all made sense when BrewDog was a smaller, edgier company with a niche audience. For sure, the Cowgate bar has character. But BrewDog has long outgrown it.

The new bar is in Lothian Road, next to a fancy hotel, in converted office space recently vacated by Clydesdale Bank. It is spacious, clean and very pleasant to visit.

Does it lack a little bit of the soul of the Cowgate bar? Perhaps. But they both have their place. And I’m delighted no longer to be stood underneath the armpit of a fellow patron in the Cowgate.

The point is that BrewDog today is not the same as BrewDog in the beginning. But nor should it be. And both have their place.

If you will indulge me with a Formula 1 analogy, this is like when Red Bull Racing became a front-running F1 team. In the early days they always posed as the funky outsiders who did things differently and broke the rules.

But when they were winning championships and the pressure was on, by necessity they became more corporate. They lost a lot of goodwill from some of their fans. There were a few uneasy years while Red Bull Racing worked through those growing pains. (I wrote about this back in the day for Badger GP.)

BrewDog seems to be going through a similar process. It will reach the point where it can no longer legitimately pose as the outsider. Arguably, that point has long since past.

This became clear to me when Alex and I were speaking to the bar manager whose bar we will have at our wedding. He turned his nose up a bit at BrewDog. “The beer is OK,” he said. “But I’d rather work with the underdog, not BrewDog.”

I understand that stance to a point.

However, I have never really been one to dislike something just because it becomes big. If something is good, it’s good. In fact, I am pleased that BrewDog is finding so much success with what I think is a really interesting and high-quality range of products.

See you at the AGM?

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