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Brewdog’s Donald Trump Debacle Is Shocking But Not Surprising

The brand’s PR history is a clue to what happened with Scofflaw of Atlanta

James Watt and Martin Dickie of craft beer brand Brewdog have created a brand that makes the Donald Trump Scofflaw debacle unsurprising Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Esquire

Another week, another Brewdog brouhaha. The craft beer brand has tried to cultivate an edgy image since it launched in 2007, but more often than not, these stunts come across as somewhat brainless. The latest stunt, frantic row back, and pivot to good — all embroiled with Donald Trump — is just the latest in a litany of attention-grabbing branding exercises.

After launching a pink “beer for girls” ahead of International Women’s Day, and branching out into “beer porn,” the controversy-merchant now “finds” itself flirting with Trumpism, courtesy of its partnership with Atlanta-based Scofflaw Brewing Co — and possible public relations skullduggery. This is how it went down.

On Thursday morning, PR agency Frank sent out a press release. A reported 11,000 journalists received word that that Scofflaw was planning to reward those who support the American president with free beer, in Brewdog pubs, from September 29 to October 6. The key line read as follows:

The self-confessed ‘trailer trash’ brewers are renowned in the states for their lawless attitude and have landed in London today – their aim?

To get the UK ‘beered up redneck style’, completely free of charge! But there is a hook… you have to be a Trump supporter.

Writer Sian Meades was first in to bat, tweeting a screenshot of part of the press release.

At the bottom of the release was a collage of images of men with guns. Shortly afterwards, The Guardian’s Jay Rayner posted a thread, starting with the kicker “When brands completely screw up”:

Twitter was quick to respond in the customary fashion. Takes ranged from eye-rolls at the repetitiveness of the situation to a riff on the “man in nightclub shouting at bored-looking woman” meme.

Frank swiftly followed up their original email with a retraction, while Brewdog put out a statement claiming that the Scofflaw release “was announced without our knowledge or consent,” and co-founder and self-styled “captain” James Watt took to Twitter to blame the whole thing on a “rogue element” at Frank. The brand also posted an image of a different version of the press release without the Trump wording on its ‘Equity For Punks’ investors’ forum, indicating that this was the one they had actually signed off. Finally, it promised a free pint of Punk or any of its other headliners to anyone who visited its venue and told the staff they supported “LOVE not hate”.

However, as beer writer Melissa Cole pointed out, in announcing that it was “sending the beer back,” BrewDog appears to have been somewhat less than transparent, since it is actually in a contract brewing arrangement with Scofflaw in Ohio — and is therefore, in effect, sending goods back to itself.

Meanwhile, Scofflaw’s representatives – five hours behind the UK in Atlanta – were scrambling to contain the fallout. In an Instagram post the brewery claimed that it “did not approve or release the message that is making its rounds. We are working with our PR firm @welcometofrank to source the internal error and correct.” In a reply to a comment on Instagram, they also indicated that their relationship with BrewDog was on the rocks after James Watt referred to them as “fake news”.

Later, in a statement quoted on Eater Atlanta, they said they were “appalled” by the “inaccurate posts concocted this morning on their behalf”. Owner Matt Shirah defended the brand:

“While we definitely have country roots, no one at Scofflaw Brewing or those associated with our brand, is now — or has ever been, rooted in hate. We do not tolerate hate — that’s just idiotic.”

Frank, for its part, did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment by Eater. It later provided the following statement:

“On 27th September, a statement was released to media by an individual employee of Frank without Scofflaw’s approval. The reputation of our client is of utmost importance and we are taking this matter seriously. The employee has been suspended while an investigation takes place. We apologise to Scofflaw, BrewDog and anyone that may have been offended by these actions.”

The story is still unfolding, and the whole debacle has raised more questions than it’s answered. What’s certain, is that the fact a majority of commentators assumed that the stunt originated with BrewDog makes for a damning indictment of the company’s brand strategy. At the end of the day, the idea that the brand that thought it was a good idea to serve beer out of dead squirrels would get into bed with Donald Trump for clicks is shocking – but not exactly surprising.