BrewDog is continuing to stick two fingers up to the ad watchdog – quite literally – after being forced to ditch yet another expletive-fuelled campaign, this time bigging up its environmental record, under the strapline “F**k You CO2. Brewdog Beer Is Now Carbon Negative”.
The campaign comprised posters seen outside Fulham Boys’ School, Camden Town Centre and Chiswick in London, in Northumberland Street, Newcastle upon Tyne and in George Square, Glasgow. Meanwhile, an identical ad ran on full-page and double-page slots in The Metro, The Week and The Economist.
But BrewDog’s attempt to swerve censure by obscuring the middle letters between F and K with a can of Brewdog Punk IPA, did little to appease the 25 complainants who contacted the Advertising Standards Authority. They challenged whether the text “F**k You” was offensive and inappropriate for display in a medium where it could be seen by children.
In response, BrewDog insisted it had wanted to shock people into thinking about the planet and reducing and removing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The company claimed the outdoor media owners and print title publishers were aligned with its objectives and message and that The Economist, The Week and Metro recognised that the message would be understood by their readers and were happy to run the ad.
BrewDog said every media placement and poster site had been approved by the media owner or landlord and that every poster site had been planned in accordance with guidelines on proximity to schools and religious buildings as advised by Outsmart.
To reinforce its point, the firm said the campaign had run at a time when schools were closed for the summer holidays and so any exposure to the ad by children going to or from school would have been limited.
BrewDog also claimed the ads implied a swear word but that it was not explicitly stated, which it believed followed precedent of what was acceptable; it did not believe the message would have caused harm or offence.
When contacted by the ASA, the publishers of The Economist, The Week and Metro all agreed with BrewDog that, as their readers were predominantly over 18, they were unlikely to find the ad offensive.
Poster firm City Outdoor, meanwhile, noted that the word was obscured. It said it had asked Newcastle City Council for their view on running the ad on the Northumberland Street screen. Newcastle City Council considered the content to be acceptable. City Outdoor took from that, that other local councils would have a similar view and said there were relatively few people passing by anyway because of the coronavirus lockdown.
But the ASA was not having any it, despite BrewDog’s attempts to limit the number of kids who would see the ad. The watchdog stated: “We considered it would be clear to most of those who saw it that the ad referred to the word ‘Fuck’ in the context of the expression ‘Fuck you’ and was making a pun, in reference to the impact of climate change.
“We considered the word ‘Fuck’ was so likely to offend a general audience that such a reference should not appear in media where it was viewable by such an audience.”
Banning the poster, the ASA concluded that it was likely to cause serious and widespread offence and was not appropriate for display in untargeted media.
The Metro was also fingered, with the watchdog ruling that because the newspaper is widely available and free the same principle should apply. But the other two titles escaped censure as they were subscription based.
Perhaps unsurprisingly BrewDog is hopping mad with the ruling. Co-founder James Watt said: “Today the Advertising Standards Authority banned our activism advert. The ASA can go fuck themselves. We are in the midst of an existential climate crisis. Thank you to the Metro, The Week, The Economist and billboard sites for understanding the importance of our carbon negative campaign.”
BrewDog has been a fierce critic of the ASA since 2013, when the regulator first upheld a complaint against the foul language used on firm’s website, including the phrase “BrewDog is a post Punk apocalyptic mother fu*ker of a craft brewery”.
At the time it hit back: “We have thousands of craft beer fans who have invested in what we do and how we do it – they are the people we listen to – not the killjoy, self-important pen pushers at the ASA in their Burton suits. Those mother fuckers don’t have any jurisdiction over us anyway.”