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What recruitment marketers can learn from ironic marketing ploys

Faye Lewis, head of marketing at Montreal Associates

From lady-friendly Doritos, to men-only coat-hangers – there’s a huge range of products on the market that have missed the mark – often with lessons learned all round. Sometimes, however, that lesson is just that people don’t dedicate as much brainpower to their marketing campaigns as they think they do.

Enter: Pink IPA. The latest creation from Brewdog that also coincides with their latest tone-deaf marketing stunt.

The Scottish firm made headlines back in 2015 under the #dontmakeusdothis campaign. Co-founders James Watt and Martin Dickie, in an attempt to crowdfund enough money to keep their business going, pretended to be homeless in one frame, and sex workers in another, which critics believe trivialised the issues these groups faced. Following a petition with nearly 40,000 signatures, Brewdog “quietly removed the offensive video from their YouTube account.”

With a reputation for controversial marketing campaigns, the ethical brewing company has now launched its ‘beer for ladies’ for International Women’s Day 2018. This has, naturally, drawn the ire of almost everyone who has seen it.

The beer has been launched with the best of causes in mind – featuring a 20% discount to those who identify as women in honour of the gender pay gap, and with a further 20% of the sale going to charities that aim to end gender inequality.

The true irony comes from the fact that this ironic marketing campaign has spectacularly backfired. Instead of marketing the pink beer to men, turning the ‘pink is for girls, blue is for boys’ stereotype on its head, Brewdog produced a product that is the epitome of what they are attempting to mock. Worse, with their history of tone-deaf marketing campaigns, their brand did not have enough popular support for the benefit of the doubt to shine through.

First announced on Twitter, the brewer tweeted: “This is not ‘beer for girls’ This is beer for equality. Pink IPA has landed.” Unfortunately, the image of their traditional blue beer breaking on a rebranded pink bottle did not land as intended – worsened by the beer itself bearing the slogan ‘beer for girls’. This attempt has clearly backfired – in large part because you can’t fit a paragraph of text explaining why something is a joke on a beer bottle.

Speaking on headlines, David Ogilvy once said that “on average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” With the age of clickbait now firmly upon us, any marketing specialist would agree that the headline is often just as important as the body copy – and when it comes to disseminating messages, even more so.

So, does ironic marketing ever really work? Sometimes.

For irony-based content to really shine through, brands need four key features. Brand recognition, a good reputation, clear messaging and a culture allowing for people to speak up if they think something’s going in the wrong direction. Brewdog, with their Pink IPA stunt, can reliably claim one of the four. (Naturally, we can only assume no-one spoke up as the question “could this be misinterpreted?” would have one clear answer.)

For a self-styled ethical brand, this is another step backwards from the audience they are trying to ingratiate themselves with.

The desired effect of the campaign, highlighting gender inequality, could have been achieved by:

  • Donating 20% of sales to women’s equality charities and changing nothing
  • Calling it Emmeline Punkhurst (as one Twitter denizen pointed out)
  • Donating the marketing budget for the project (Oasis had excellent results from a branding perspective with this strategy)
  • Naming the pink beer ‘Stereot-IPA’ (pretend you’re ordering and say it out loud)

One of their more well thought out campaigns, however, was also one of the simplest. Giving away one million beers (because “one million seems like a good number”) instead of spending the money on creating actual advertising. They believe the beer can speak for itself… perhaps it should be given the Head of Marketing role.

Let this be a lesson to the recruitment community seeking to get their brand out there – ironic marketing campaigns should be approached with the utmost caution, especially if the object of humour is a very real issue in the world today. Just like a joke – branding is a very serious thing.

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

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