Brewdog is a multinational brewery and pub chain based in Ellon, Scotland. With the production of over 800,000hl, which also runs over 80 pubs across the U.K, it has taken a bold stance against the Qatar World Cup in its latest marketing campaign. BrewDog is attempting to attract customers by promoting its environmental credentials following financial losses and recent allegations of workplace bullying.
The Scottish brewer has launched a campaign dubbed “the planet’s favorite beer.” The tagline refers to the environment and the wide range of people who enjoy BrewDog’s beverages.
With work on the world’s biggest tournament approaching copyright infringement, the drinks giant has launched an out-of-home (OOH) ad campaign reflecting many of the UK’s reservations about Qatar 2022.
The BrewDog OOH ads were created by Saatchi & Saatchi UK, and feature copy reads: ‘Proud anti-sponsor of the World F*Cup,’ ‘The Beautiful Shame,’ ‘Eat, Sleep, Bribe, Football,’ and ‘First Russia, then Qatar.’ I can’t wait to see North Korea.’
A BrewDog press release explained the campaign: “Football is meant to be for everyone.” However, homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, flogging is a common form of punishment, and it is acceptable for 6,500 workers to die while constructing your stadium.”
The brand also offers profits from Lost Lager sold during the tournament to fight human rights violations. The brand was rebuked on social media for showing the games in its pub, to which it responded that it “loves football, just not corruption, abuse, and death.” It’s also worth noting that, despite concerns about the host country, most pubs and broadcasters will show the games.
Watt responded to a query on LinkedIn: “We want to give people a place to watch the game and do some good at the same time. Let’s be honest – people are still going to watch the games – so we want to give them the opportunity to watch the games and raise money to drive positive change at the same time.”
He added: “We’re proud to be launching BrewDog as an anti-sponsor of the World F*Cup. To be clear, we love football. So join us. Let’s raise a glass to the players. To the fans. To free speech. And two fingers to anyone who thinks a World Cup in Qatar makes sense.”
It’s fair to say there’s a strong sense of feeling around the brand and its bold marketing strategy, which hits as much as it misses. For instance, many come to expect the launch of a bespoke can around big events.
The company has not specified which nonprofits will receive the donation. However, it confirmed that it would only make donations to registered charities that aided those “affected by human rights injustices and violations in Qatar.”
The campaign comes as official sponsors face criticism from consumers and activists for their support of the 2022 World Cup, which has been dogged by controversy since Qatar was awarded hosting duties in 2010.
Issues surrounding Qatar’s hosting responsibilities have included allegations of bidding corruption, bribery charges brought by the United States against FIFA officials, allegations of human rights abuses and exploitation in relation to the (mostly) migrant laborers building Qatar’s stadiums, questions from soccer players and fans about anti-LGBTQ+ laws, and concerns about the safety of women traveling to the Gulf state.
According to Amnesty International, overseas laborers account for 90% of Qatar’s workforce, with 1.7 million thought to be working at present. Official embassy data published in 2021 revealed 6,500 workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka had died since it won the bid in 2010.
Though some title sponsors have joined a growing chorus of voices calling for compensation for the families of migrant workers impacted, others have stayed silent.
The self-styled “punk” Scottish brand has been a lightning rod for controversy since its 2008 launch owing to its shock tactics and legal battles.
In 2013, Watt said he’d rather “set money on fire” than spend it on “shallow” traditional advertising. However, the brand has typically flexed its marketing muscle through stunts promoted by above-the-line creative—a mix that’s made it a lightning rod for controversy.
Issues have included bans from the U.K. advertising watchdog for explicit language and “misleading” promotions. In 2014, its “Not for Gays” beer—designed to draw attention to Russia‘s anti-LGBTQ+ legislation ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics in the same year—also split opinion with branding that featured an Andy Warhol-style print of president Vladimir Putin.
BrewDog recently apologized after facing a slew of allegations about its workplace culture.
Ex-workers claimed in an open letter circulated on Twitter in June 2021 that the company’s rapid growth had resulted in cutting corners on health and safety, compromising its values, and creating a “toxic” work environment.
Unite, a British trade union called the craft beer company’s anti-Qatar campaign “disingenuous.”
“The treatment of workers in Qatar is an international scandal,” Bryan Simpson, the industrial organizer for the group’s hospitality sector, told City A.M.
“But BrewDog [has] a cheek saying anything about workers’ rights when hundreds of [its] own workers—past and present—signed an open letter detailing a ‘culture of fear,’ with workers demanding an apology for ‘harassing, assaulting, belittling, insulting, or gaslighting them.”
“This is yet another deceptive advertising campaign designed to divert customers’ attention away from the fact that BrewDog is one of the worst employers in the brewing industry when it comes to treating employees fairly,” he added.
BrewDog responded by emphasizing its investments in mental health, well-being, training, and other employment benefits.
“Where we’ve fallen short in the past, we’ve apologized, and we’re a different business today—totally focused on becoming the best employer in our sector,” a spokesperson added.