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Honesty is the Best Policy

Before we dive in – let us define the marketing term we explore in today’s blog. As the name suggests, brand transparency is the formation of authentic relationships within any given stakeholder network. This involves exposing the realities behind the culture of your business, your ethical practices, as well as the goals, values and objectives that act as key drivers on a day-to-day basis. In essence, it’s about creating trust. Simples. 

In a world where consumers are inundated with fake news, ostentatious publicity stunts, and empty throwaway comments, consumers are hungry for open and honest transparency. And, there are huge pay-offs to be made from taking this approach within your marketing strategy; not only in creating lifelong consumers, but internally by fostering employee engagement and productivity. 

Studies have shown this to be true: one demonstrating company transparency as the leading factor in determining workplace happiness* and others finding that 94% of respondents stay loyal to a brand if they are considered to be transparent**. 

But, the danger in this comes from the brands who know this and exploit this for what it’s worth. 

Case in point: BrewDog. As you may (or may not) have heard, recently Brewdog came under fire for several misconduct allegations; perhaps the most damaging of all being their ex-staff members’ open letter, ‘Punks with Purpose’, shaming the organisation for harbouring a culture of fear, exploitation and toxicity. Clearly, yeast wasn’t the only thing fermenting at the brewery, with over 50 named signatures behind the statement – and another 50 unnamed! 

So, where did it all go wrong? Well, let us set the scene. 

Cast your minds back to the early 2000’s – well, 2007, to be exact. Done? Great, we’ll continue.

A small, albeit leading, Scottish brewery named BrewDog had recently come onto the scene as an independent brewery, with the forte to design craft beer effective at marginalising the ‘industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominated the UK beer market’. Fast-forward 14 years and the brand has pretty much achieved just that. Now operating in four breweries and one-hundred bars worldwide, raking in annual sales of approximately £215 million, BrewDog has quickly become one of the world’s most innovative and pioneering beer brands. 

Aside from their seemingly revolutionary approach to brewing, a contentious marketing front has always followed suit, to which BrewDog has been previously criticised for being outrageous, provocative and perverse. Slogans such as ‘This is the revolution – so help me Dog’ and ‘Changing the world – one beer at a time’ capture the “punk” ethos all too well, as does their active encouragement for customers to ‘ride towards anarchy’ along with them. In the past, BrewDog has been chastised by industry watchdogs, including the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Portman Group, for promoting misleading, deceptive and/or inappropriate messaging. Within the past couple of weeks, this has included advertising claims that one of their new beers is nutritionally healthy (it isn’t) and a giveaway where one of their cans was embossed in £15k carat of gold (it wasn’t). 

However, the emergence of the ‘Punks with Purpose’ letter, sandwiched painfully amidst the both of these instances, is perhaps the biggest hit to BrewDog’s already swaying stance. With specific examples provided in the contents of the letter of the blatant “lies, hypocrisy and deceit” happening on a cross- department, location and/or seniority basis, the blatant honesty about the “residual feeling of fear” is striking. 

James Watt, BrewDog CEO and lead marketer, feels the heat the most, as one passage is directed solely towards him, with remarks that he has a “choice” now to rectify this for the future of the brand. And so, it still could all be salvageable for BrewDog – after all, 89% of people say that a brand could regain their trust if it openly admits to a mistake and is transparent about its steps to resolve the issue•••. Taking this onboard, having responded openly to these claims, Watt could potentially turn this around and use this as an opportunity to take positive action by listening to his employees and providing them with the agency they deserve. 

The main takeaway? Like it or not, brand transparency is becoming a key player in the marketing scene, so brands take this as a warning: use it, don’t abuse it. 

For reference you can read the open letter here, along with James Watts’ response.




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