So, on Tuesday BrewDog rebranded one of its beers as Pink IPA, to support International Women’s Day and highlight the issue of the gender pay gap while raising money for a number of women’s charities.
It was met with predictable social media outrage when it landed because it attempted the tricky manoeuvre of highlighting gender stereotypes in product marketing by, erm, using a gender stereotype to market the product (maybe F1 will follow suit with ironic grid girls).
It had liberal snowflakes like me choking on our spelt porridge when we saw it. Cue hailstorm of social media hot takes – pro and anti – follow-up media coverage within a couple of hours, trending on Twitter, massive buzz and brand profile before lunch – job done.
I’m not a fan of the BrewDog brand and its "punk" stylings – too 'try hard sixth-form radical' for my tastes – but I’m not their target audience, the company is thriving and it is great to see a high-profile brand so publicly campaigning on the gender pay gap.
Too many brands take a safety-first approach to issues-led campaigns, fearing exactly the sort of Twitter-fuelled backlash that BrewDog seem to revel in.
The end result is often an airless, corporate brand campaign featuring some vague slogan like "Aim Higher" and a demographically calibrated cast of beautiful people smiling.
So, all hail those who don’t seek refuge in the bland, but if you are going to have a go, make sure you’re publicly walking the walk before you do so. The press release for Pink IPA made no reference to BrewDog’s own gender pay gap performance and try as I might, I couldn’t find anything relating to it on their website.
It was subsequently disclosed in a Guardian article following all the hoo-ha, but no indication of what the company is planning to do to tackle the issue internally.
Campaigns that mix brand, issues and product marketing are combustible – look no further than Pepsi and Kendall Jenner last year – so you’ll light the blue touch paper from the start if you aren’t living up the values you espouse.
Stuff like this has a habit of biting brands on the bum at some stage. BrewDog has had a taste of that with the controversy last year around the issue of heavy handed legal letters to businesses it felt were infringing its copyright, but the most high-profile current example is Team Sky and Dave Brailsford.
From what we know, they haven’t broken any rules, but when you launch your brand on the basis of zero tolerance to doping, as Team Sky did in 2009, you should expect a backlash when you appear to have been gaming the system in that regard.
Nobody’s perfect – true for people and organisations alike. Brands taking a stand on social issues is hugely important, but before they do so, they should be transparent about their own performance in relation to the issue and, crucially, communicate what they are doing to improve.
Otherwise they are in the land of "do as I say, not as I do".