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Brewdog versus Diageo. Why Goliath never had a chance.

Brewdog versus Diageo. Why Goliath never had a chance.

Diageo (global drinks giant) picked a fight with Brewdog (small Scottish brewer).

I’m not going to reiterate here what fight they picked, but you should read all about it from the mouth of the Brewdog horse. This post won’t make much sense if you don’t know the background.

Suffice to say that it was the equivalent of the school bully pushing a smaller boy around in the playground, only for the smaller boy to swing a leg and kick the bully squarely in the nuts. It doesn’t matter how big you are, a well aimed kick in the nuts is going to take you down.

This post is about why Diageo couldn’t have picked a worse target to expose its goolies to.

1) Brewdog is a genuinely social business with a genuine community.

Brewdog is inherently social.

This goes way beyond “social media marketing”, a term which I suspect would make the company’s founders wince.

Its whole business model is social.

It has raised capital investment from a small army of over 7,000 “fanvestors“.

(2,000 of whom made the trip to the north of Scotland for the recent “Punk AGM“.)

The guys that founded and run Brewdog are inherently social.

They get it. They are candid, inclusive and appear to enjoy the banter.

The brand has a genuine community around it.

i.e. the brand has a group of people around it that have a lot in common, a group that talks amongst itself as well as to the brand, a group that is itself highly social.

Input from the community is regularly invited, on issues such as where to open bars and which beers to brew.

It really shouldn’t have come as such a big, fat, nasty surprise then that this community was so easy to mobilise and/or so willing to self-mobilise in support of the brand.

It was the wall of social noise prompted by Brewdog’s original blog post that led to the extensive PR coverage and the long term SEO damage to Diageo’s corporate reputation.

2) Brewdog is a charismatic brand.

If you haven’t read The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier, you really should.

He talks about the characteristics of a Charismatic Brand, which are summarised in the hand-made Venn diagram below.

The book was first published in 2003.

Before Facebook.

Before Twitter.

Before YouTube.

But you’d struggle to find a better model for social-friendly branding.

Brewdog : The charismatic brand.

Brewdog has a clear competitive stance.

It is small, independent and totally dedicated to the “craft beer revolution”.

We pride ourselves on serving only the best, most exciting and most flavoursome craft beers we can get our paws on from all corners of the planet. A bar where you can escape the pathetic monotony of mass market industrial beers made by faceless multi-national corporations.  Our bar is a library of beery masterpieces from the likes of BrewDog, Stone, Mikkeller, Struise, Alesmith and many more. No Tennents. No Carling. No Smirnoff. No Televisions. We are not cool. We are not pretentious. We just care. And we are your friends.

I can’t over-emphasise how important this is.

The beer is excellent. Make that the beers (plural) are all excellent.

If you want to do well in social channels, if you want positive word of mouth, if you want to “earn” media, then a bloody good product is a prerequisite.

Brewdog is dedicated to aesthetics.

I can’t over-emphasise how important this is.

Visual content is vital conversation fuel in social channels, particularly Facebook.

Brewdog has a sense of rectitude.

The brand’s determination to do the right thing when it comes to brewing beer is more, much more, than a piece of brand positioning. It is a moral crusade.

That’s why Brewdog people self harm by playing golf with bottles of mass-produced, industrial beer.

And that’s why their first instinct, when pushed in the playground by a bigger boy, was to kick the bully in the nuts. Hard.

I can’t over-emphasise how important this is.

Charismatic brands are talked about brands.

Charisma creates community.

Communities kick nuts.


Brewdog acted in character by hitting back at Diageo.

And Diageo has acted in the character of all big organisations faced with a social media crisis. They issued an apology and blamed the incident on a “rogue” employee.

And yes there was a stupid individual at the epicentre of this incident.

But what that individual did had to be, at least indirectly, a function of the culture at Diageo.

Why would he (she?) have done what he (she?) did at the award ceremony if he (she?) had not perceived Brewdog to be the enemy?

And that perception of Brewdog as enemy has to be a cultural perception, not just that of a rogue individual.

I’d wager that the individual in question will have been party to “who will rid me of this troublesome brewer?” conversations. He or she may even have been involved in “how can we rid ourselves of this troublesome brewer?” scenario planning sessions.

This is pure speculation on my part. But in my experience there is rarely rogue individual smoke without cultural fire.

The obvious question is why something as small as Brewdog should provoke such strength of feeling at an organisation as big as Diageo. Brewdog should be flattered to be on Diageo’s radar.

I suspect that it has nothing to do with market share (tiny in comparison to Diageo), and everything to do with profile (disproportionately large in comparison to the brand’s market share).

Brewdog brews great beer. But it also pushes the envelope of acceptability (as defined by the Portman Group) with some of its more extreme brews/PR activities.

If these antics are perceived to be a threat to self-regulation for the drinks industry then Brewdog should continue to watch its back. There will be several large organisations – not just Diageo – that will be looking for opportunities to “serve it cold”.

Fortunately for Brewdog it has a large, growing, well connected and highly vocal community to watch its back for it.


  1. Peter

    “Visual content is vital conversation fuel in social channels, particularly Facebook.
    Brewdog has a sense of rectitude.”

    But Brewdog don’t have a Facebook, do they?

  2. Anna MacLean

    Well put, Phil.

    It worked out so well for BrewDog that a part of me wondered if they’d had anything to do with the whole thing happening! Or have I been watching too many episodes of ‘ScanDrama’ lately? ; )

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