*If you don’t know, ‘jumping the shark’ is a phrase from the TV industry that refers to the episode when popular comedy Happy Days finally lost it and ran out of ideas, symbolised by Fonzie jumping over a shark on water skis.
I hate having to write two consecutive posts about Brew Dog, especially when the first one was a satirical post in which I took the piss out of myself more than anything else.
But last night James Watt ruined my mood for the fireworks with the announcement of his latest wheeze.
Tokyo* has, allegedly, been banned by the Portman Group. But it turns out the complaint that led to this ban came from James himself, in order to show up Portman for how ridiculous they are. James’ Tweet explaining this simply said “lessons in marketing”, and linked to the blog post about the story.
When Portman announced they were to investigate Brew Dog back in August, Brew Dog fans threw up their hands in horrified outrage. At the time, I said on their blog:
“Careful we don’t all go for the wrong targets – if Portman have received a complaint they are obliged to investigate it – they are just doing their job. The substance of the complaint to me seems to be nonsense. If Portman uphold it, that is when to lay into them, because that would be a ridiculous decision. But if they throw it out, it could do loads to help get the right message about craft beers across.”
So is now the time to slag off Portman? Well, from our point of view we’ll always think they’re overreacting a tad. But this morning I’m afraid it’s Brew Dog who look like idiots. I wouldn’t mind that so much – but I fear their antics have damaged the entire beer industry, and the worst thing is, they couldn’t give a shit.
The thing is, Tokyo* hasn’t been banned at all, as James claims it has. Portman have not objected to the beer; they’ve objected to some inflammatory wording on the label – wording it now seems was written with the sole intention of winding up the Portman Group in the first place, given the only person who has complained about it was the person who wrote it.
I could go on here to point out that we have to have regulatory bodies overseeing alcohol promotion, that every market in the world has such regulatory bodies, and that by international standards ours is not that bad. I could explain that we need such regulation in order to stop fly-by-night small businesses – usually hawking nasty spirits – from packaging their gutrot in a way that overtly appeals to children, or links drunkenness with sexual success.
I could explain that the alternative to bodies like the Portman Group is direct government regulation. I could point out that this would be much harsher than what we currently have, that there are lots of floating voters who don’t like seeing drunk people in their nice middle class town centres, and that the Tory government-in-waiting – never known for their relaxed attitudes to people enjoying themselves – are murmuring about aggressively tightening restrictions on any beer over 5%, and that if they had direct control over alcohol regulation most of Brew Dog’s beers, as well as 90% of the speciality beers we love, could actually become illegal.
I could point out that this stunt not only damages the credibility of the Portman Group – its avowed intention – but also gives perfect fuel to those who believe the alcohol industry cannot be trusted and needs to be more tightly controlled.
But there’s no point. Because BrewDog James already knows and understands this perfectly, and he doesn’t care.
James loves the Portman Group. They are central to his marketing strategy. This is how he promotes the Brew Dog name and gets column inches. The fact that he refers to the blog post as “lessons in marketing” tells us all we need to know about the real reason for this stunt, whatever mealy-mouthed justification is trotted out on the Brew Dog blog over the weekend. This is about self-promotion. It does nothing to further the debate about great craft beer. It does no service to drinkers and Brew Dog fans, who were as duped by this as anyone else.
I’ve worked in marketing and consultancy for 18 years, most of that in booze. And in that time I’ve met a lot of talented, headstrong 26 year-olds who think they know everything, who think they can stick it to the man and usher in a new wave of cool. Every single one of them falls flat on their arse, usually with wider damaging consequences. I know, because I was one.
“Lessons in marketing”? So this is how we should all behave, is it?
The craft beer industry needs gifted brewers like Martin Dickie. And it needs edgy, iconoclastic brands like Brew Dog. It needs conventions to be challenged, and it needs fresh ideas. But it needs schoolboy pranks like this one like it needs a hole in the head. There’s no place in the craft beer world for someone who seeks publicity by winding up regulatory bodies just for the sake of it, sending an early Christmas present to neo-prohibitionist Op-Ed writers in the process.
What angers me the most is that even by writing this, I’m playing into James’ strategy. It’s what he wants. So let me state my opinion very clearly:
Brew Dog: either grow up, or get out.
My Equity for Punks prospectus has been refiled from ‘to do’ to ‘recycling’.