17 Mar 2017

Beers, Bibles and Brewtal Blunders: Brand Management Lessons From This Week

If you were on the internet (or in a pub) this week, you’ll know it was an eventful one for the Coopers Brewery, its brand management and, well, Australia.


For those who eschew both alcohol and the net, here’s the 101. The Bible Society’s “Keeping it Light” campaign aims to “show that it is possible to have a light discussion on the heaviest topics”. It also wants to “reach even more Australians with God’s word”.

It released a video with Liberal MPs, Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie, debating marriage equality. Shot on the grounds of Parliament House, it features the MPs and host Matt Andrews clearly drinking a new line of Coopers light beer. The video explains that the Bible Society has been “keeping it light for 200 years”. The meaning behind this messaging remains unclear. Seeing the light, I guess?

Well, Coopers and its comms agencies soon got a brewed awakening (I’ll … show myself the door). The social media beast and media caught wind of the video and, hoo boy, did it leave a bitter taste in the mouths of consumers. Many felt the Adelaide brewer was either against marriage equality or trivialising the matter.

Over the next few days, the alements (ok, ok, I’m done) to Coopers’ brand piled up. A nightclub in Melbourne publicly threw its Coopers stock into a bin. It was one of many to either stop selling the brand or donate the profits from the remaining stock to charity. Countless consumers complained on Coopers’ social media pages. Plus the inevitable spoofs, and a slew of long-time fans turning their backs on the brew.

So, how did Coopers respond? It started off by issuing a preliminary statement denying it sponsored the video in question, explaining that its involvement with the Bible Society was to create commemorative cans for its 200th anniversary. It then followed that up with a video statement pledging support for marriage equality. It’s confusing messaging, to say the least.

Putting the ‘heavier’ religious and political components aside for a moment, let’s get light and talk about what we’ve learned from a comms perspective.

Know Your Message

The most flagrant problem with the video statement is its authenticity. Viewers didn’t feel the Coopers execs, Melanie Cooper and Dr Tim Cooper, really meant what they were saying. You only have to watch the first 10 seconds to know why – the two are clearly reading with the assistance of a poorly placed autocue. And it’s in no way subtle. I had to watch it twice for the words to actually sink in, as I was too focused on their eye movements first go around.

If you’re going to talk about being “incredibly saddened”, you need to be, and appear to be, genuinely incredibly saddened. Think about what you want to communicate and embody it, otherwise, it won’t translate.

Clear And Consistent Messaging

“Coopers have released commemorative cans of Premium Light beer to celebrate The Bible Society’s 200th anniversary. In doing so, we aren’t trying to push a religious message.” According to the preliminary statement, the cans, which would come in a box printed with Bible verses, weren’t meant to be religious.

While you let that sink in, let’s talk about the first step in the development of messaging: does it make sense? Like brewing a beer without yeast*, your message will crumble if you fail to ask this question. If there isn’t clarity and logic in the decision-making process, there won’t be any in your message.

Alignment, Alignment, Alignment!

In the comms industry, we talk a lot about alignment and integration of PR, social and content. But we can’t let our focus slip from ensuring business policies are at the heart of all messaging. If Company X says it supports gender equality in the workforce, it better practice this in its culture and policies.

Many people pointed out that Coopers was an ‘official supplier’ of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. But as reported in the Australian Financial Review, it withdrew its sponsorship before this year’s event (Subscription Required). In the video, Coopers acknowledged the feedback it received. It said it is “taking steps to show a further support” for its community, including joining Marriage Equality Australia. Making all these moves in close proximity left many consumers confused about where the brand stands.

This debacle also comes at a bad time for Coopers. With beer drinking on the decline in Australia overall, the only thing moving upwards is craft beer, which now makes about 9 per cent of the market. There are around 250 microbreweries around the country and presumably at least some of them will be eager to step into the void created by Coopers’ misstep.

*Disclaimer: Probably. I know nothing about the brewing of beer. This is purely for metaphor purposes.

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