‘Marketing is Everything’ : notes on the BREWGOD collection
Do you believe that marketing is everything?
Yuval Harari writes that what defines us, and made us successful as Homo Sapiens are stories. Our ability to create stories that others in post-ape groups will believe and follow. Not only those we can see – the tree, the river - but also the family tree, the river of life.
Marketing is the greatest story ever told. Guaranteed to make you buy shit you don’t need with money you don’t have. When you wake up and feel dissatisfied with life and a little rubbish compared to everyone else. We should know that it is the job of the smartest minds and best paid people in the world to make you feel that way, every day. It is no secret that self-help books come in series. There will always be one more bottle of £10 Prime being pushed on Youtube videos for kids and Whatsapp posts shared by football team dads. This is sugared, coloured water.
Capitalism, is our all-pervasive doctrine that binds together the most compelling stories of money and cravings with a never-ending stream. This product will change your life. We want to believe. It is in our very nature. To cope, not only in ape groups of 80 or so, but in tribes of millions, we need to believe in stories, and we need to have trust that they are true.
When James Watt wrote in his management bible, Business for Punks, “Marketing is Everything”. He meant it. He voiced his own audio book with these words. They were then played back by the BBC in 2022 with some very damning mood music and reporting of some fairly immoral, messianic behaviour. This art collection sends up the ‘Toxic Brewing Culture’ that was exposed. A ‘Post Moral Classic’; the ‘Dead Brand Club’; ‘Cool Aid IPA’; a ‘21st Century Deception’ and a ‘Values Neutral Company’.
You may not mind the expropriation of the anarchic, indie punk culture by a business that began with a Tesco supermarket contract, but we don’t like being lied to. Any business and brand that is built on aspirational and ethical values, freebies for tattoos and small investors, which then turns out to break their own moral code is… well you be the judge, but is certainly ripe for parody.
Satire is a very British weapon, used for centuries to lampoon power and injustice within the establishment. It is useful, especially if those wielding the moral compass are wearing paper-thin clothes of the anti-establishment, or indeed any clothes at all.
Bill Hicks, the late-great Texan comedian said, “He’s smart, he’s going for the anti-marketing dollar. That’s a big dollar.” Well, yes I suppose I am. After all, irony is my medium. This is art that makes you think. Ripe for satire.
Shoreditch, March 2023
My BREWGOD collection is available at The Brick Lane Gallery, London from March 29th - 9th April.
BONUS BLOG EXTRA!
For those who don't know the BREWDOG story on which my 'BREWGOD' series is based, here's a bonus piece that I wrote for background.
‘Toxic Brewing Culture’
When James Watt and Martin Dickie founded BREWDOG after leaving Thornbridge brewery, they may not have set out to form a cult, but that’s exactly what BREWDOG became. Hosting AGMs, where the pair rolled onto stage like punk rock stars; getting everyone pissed (in a brewery); giving discounts for BREWDOG tattoo wearers; and then selling ‘Punk Investor’ shares to the throng, sweetened by free beers on shareholder birthdays.
After winning a Tesco brewing competition with some phenomenal beers brewed by Dickie, they fibbed their way past banks into a becoming a major supplier to supermarkets and blew shit up on You Tube, using Watt’s uncompromising marketing genius to appropriate punk credentials. With their most famous brew, PUNK IPA – ‘The Beer That Started It All’, Watt was claiming that the pair had humbly begun the craft beer revolution in the UK from their new mega brewery in Ellon, Scotland.
Confession: I have drunk BREWDOG beers. A lot.
Apparently, there had been rumours of a ‘toxic working culture’ brewing for some time, but when last year (2022), following an open letter from a group of BREWDOG employees, the BBC’s investigative journalism team uncovered rampant sexism, misogynism and much more, I was shocked. From brewhouse to taproom, in the TV documentary Disclosure and podcast series, The Good Ship BREWDOG, reporters told a story that hit Watt and Dickie with a public relations nightmare that could have killed a less market-savvy branded business.
My BREWGOD collection is my response to these revelations. Using this expose to subvert James Watt’s claim in his management bible, Business for Punks that “Marketing is Everything” and ask: Do these revelations about Private Equity deals and a messianic cult of personality (that allegedly left managers replacing female staff in American taprooms ahead of CEO visits), belie their legitimacy to be considered either an indie ‘punk’ or progressive rainbow organisation.
The pop art-inspired compositions are hand-finished with acrylic paints slipping off the packaging. The suggestion is that such a brand, even one with cultish overtones and an allegedly messianic leader, has a very thin veneer. What is the harm in selling colossal amounts of beer and making £100m each in the process? Heineken does the same?
Some thought BREWDOG was different. 1000s of beer lovers became ‘punk investors’. They invested in a movement for ‘better beer’. What the BBC reports is that what was hidden under this veneer was a succession of VERY LOUD fibs about values and authenticity. Blowing up slabs of Heineken ‘big beer’ on You Tube and then James Watt buying Heineken shares; campaigning to “smash the glass ceiling” with ‘Beer for Girls: PINK IPA’ (a campaign that bombed), while many female staff felt unsafe at work; proposing that BREWDOG would be a ‘Carbon Neutral Company’ by planting a Scottish forest with the proceeds from ‘Lost Lager’ (something they never did, or intended to do).
So, an interesting story, which seems to highlight that in business, ‘marketing IS everything’. What do you think? Do you feel lied to? Did you stop buying BREWDOG beer? Does is it matter?
Never unknowingly ironic, unprincipled and apocryphal.