The words "Sober as a motherfu", on an outdoor ad positioned outside a primary school, was destined to cause offence and equally destined to be banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.
It was a storm in an advertising teacup that triggered just 26 complaints. This is the outdoor advertising equivalent of the recent election’s plethora of "shitposting", whereby large amounts of poor-quality content – intended to derail discussions or make reasoned debate impossible – were spewed out on social media channels.
BrewDog’s latest ad, by its design, will trigger discussion. Clearly, it has succeeded in securing our attention in a marketing ecosystem in which time and attention are in short supply. Yet, unlike the "shitposting" of political advertising, it neither misleads nor stifles meaningful debate. For an adult audience, at least, the campaign is a welcome reminder of the importance of sticking two fingers up to the omnipresent peer pressure of "one more drink" in the festive period. Choosing not to drink can be an anarchic choice.
Of course, the placement of an ad like this near schools is not exactly the best ad for the industry at large. But forgive me if I don't think this is the biggest potential derailment of my children’s education looming large on the horizon. We live in a world where on one end of the scale, teachers are opening schools to ensure kids on the poverty line receive food at Christmas, and on the other children are routinely being taught achievement over kindness.
A case for self-regulation
So, no, the BrewDog ad is not a damning indictment of the marketing industry. Nor is it a reason to start frothing bile to Uncommon Creative Studio, BrewDog or the outdoor advertising sector at large. Nor is this a case of the ASA losing its sense of humour. This is the marketing industry and advertising regulation at their functioning best. An ad oversteps the mark; it’s banned swiftly and clearly by the ASA; nothing to see here.
It is an obvious, yet nonetheless important, point to make in a year in which the ASA has been on the receiving end of hate mail and death threats for its bold move to ban work from Mondelez International and Volkswagen for gender stereotyping.
In the midst of this cycle of criticism and social media-powered hatred, as an industry we need to be more mindful as to where we direct our frustrations and anger. At times, the ASA’s rulings can feel like an entirely thankless task; that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be grateful for its existence.
The appreciation deficit
In a challenging and at times chaotic business environment, knee-jerk defensiveness can become a default position. There is no question that this year has had its sharp edges and few would deny that the industry is facing far bigger problems than one rogue BrewDog ad.
With data from Creative Equals showing that 12% of women are planning on leaving the industry over the next two years, the race is on to ensure that the talent who will drive the industry into the next decade doesn’t leave before it even gets started.
As the decade draws to a close and sweeping statements on what lies ahead continue to pour in, channelling our energies and frustrations into supporting the institutions, organisations and individuals underpinning the industry has never been more vital.
So perhaps, instead of taking aim at BrewDog, or seeking to weaken the self-regulatory backbone of the ASA, we should take a long hard look at the true cost of the lack of regulation of political advertising.
A regulatory void
As we rake through the ashes of the election campaign, it may well be "boomers, not bots" who secured the Conservative victory. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the fundamental rot at the heart of electoral advertising, which is having a devastating impact on trust in overall advertising and the reputation of the industry at large.
The truth is that an ad for a non-alcoholic beer currently faces more accountability than any political party. This is why, as an industry, supporting the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising is crucial to challenging this toxic status quo.
Wherever we stand as individuals on this election result, it is impossible to deny the pernicious effect of the lack of regulation on our public spaces and political consciousness. As the commentators have rightly lined up to declare, the simplicity of the Conservative message won through. Truth, however, is a far more complicated thing – one that the majority of our political leaders appear not to give a motherfu about.
Nicola Kemp is managing editor at Creativebrief’s BITE and former trends editor at Campaign