Friday, May 11, 2012

Drinks giant Diageo reels from social media backlash

Global drinks giant Diageo, custodian of iconic brands such as Johnny Walker, Smirnoff, Jose Cuervo, Guinness and Moet & Chandon found itself at the centre of a public relations storm this week after it was alleged that they unfairly intervened at an annual drink industry awards event to prevent a rival from picking up an award.
Independent Scottish brewer, BrewDog claimed that the drinks giant Diageo had brought undue pressure to bear on the organizers of the event to override the decision of the judges to give them an award, allegedly stating that ‘under no circumstances could BrewDog be allowed to win’.
According to BrewDog, despite the fact that the judges had already made their decision and had their name engraved on the trophy, a Diageo executive attending the event, on learning of the decision, threatened to pull any future sponsorship of the event if Brewdog was announced the winner.
Since then a number of sources seem to confirm BrewDog’s story and Diageo’s subsequent apology. 
The storm has left many of us working in digital media wondering what on earth the Diageo executive in question was thinking. Perhaps he or she had become emboldened by Dutch courage brought about by a drink or two during the evening’s festivities? Veterans of awards dinners know that these events can sometimes get a little ‘lively’ and this one was held in Glasgow after all…
Whatever the rationale, it seems that someone decided that presenting an award to these young upstarts was beyond the pale. What happened next is textbook example of the kind of David and Goliath spat that usually ensues when a large corporation gets caught out bullying a plucky new kid on the block in the blinding spotlight of social media.
Ever true to its often provocative and, some might argue, inflammatory house style, BrewDog posted an exposé on its blog tilted 'Diageo screw BrewDog' 
BrewDog are well known and in some circles openly admired for its guerilla tactics and no stranger to courting controversy.  Its 32% “Tactical Nuclear Penguin” beer caused a bit of a stir when it was released, but the truly staggering sequel “Sink the Bismarck,’ tipping the alcoholic scales at an eye watering 41%, really outraged Daily Mail readers who rather predictably thought that it was a "cynical marketing ploy that would corrupt our nations youth and put otherwise responsible citizens instantly over the drink-drive limit."
The fact that this particular tipple is ‘something of an acquired taste’ isn’t really the point. It challenged the status quo and upset the establishment. All this is perfect halo marketing for their core business of brewing beers that are actually very drinkable. Many would agree they are also doing a fine job of promoting the craft beer sector as a counterpoint to the homogenized conveyor belt of industrially manufactured beers that line supermarket shelves and dominate chain pubs.

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