This week saw provocative craft beer company BrewDog hit the headlines, as allegations emerged that Diageo had abused its position as sponsor of the British Institute of Inkeeping (BII) awards to prevent BrewDog from winning Bar Operator of the Year. Misguided Diageo executives are thought to have threatened to pull all funding for the BII should its fledgling competitor beat it to first place.
BrewDog has a reputation for outlandish publicity campaigns – which included courting press outrage with a 41% proof beer and presenting one brand inside a stuffed stoat – and is a master of guerilla marketing. Describing their ethos as “a beacon of non-conformity in an increasingly monotone corporate desert”, BrewDog was never going to miss this PR gift bestowed by Diageo, and promptly released a blog post titled ‘Diageo screws BrewDog‘ and a Twitter campaign under #andthewinnerisnot. Within hours, the hashtag was trending worldwide and the entire embarrassing affair reported on primetime news. Diageo was forced to release a humiliating apology in the hope of fending off further damage to its reputation.
BrewDog isn’t the first David to slay a Goliath, using tweets instead of stones. Independent jewellery designer Stevie Koerner challenged Urban Outfitters with having stolen one of her designs. A few million retweets later, and Urban Outfitters watched aghast as their share price plummeted and Stevie notched up a whopping $36k in sales. In the same industry, retail giant Claire’s Accessories faced a torrent of criticism across Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook as well as traditional media outlets for allegedly copying the designs of funky jewellery boutique Tatty Devine.
So what can we learn from these virtual wars? Simply, that you don’t need a big budget to make a big impact.
Be provocative, where it suits your brand
BrewDog courts controversy at every turn. Their approach divides opinion, winning them a fair number of critics as well as supporters, but it does gain attention. The old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity isn’t true for every organisation (I doubt it’s true at all) but this kind of provocation marketing does seem to work pretty well for BrewDog. First of all, it enables a small business to make a disproportionately large impact. If they quietly sold great beers, I wouldn’t be blogging about them now, but a few outraged media headlines about BrewDog creating a nation of alcoholics makes them a recognisable name among their target market. What’s more, it chimes perfectly with their edgy, anti-establishment image.
Try a personal touch
When I set up as a freelancer, I took inspiration from illustrator Johanna Basford, who elegantly manages her social media presence. By strange coincidence, Johanna is the girlfriend of BrewDog founder James, but her approach to marketing is notably different. Johanna offers quirky little personal insights, including Studio Sneak Peaks, Vimeo tutorials and even ‘shots of my desk’. Johanna is one person, self-employed with (I would venture) a miniscule marketing budget, yet through talent and imagination she’s amassed an impressive client list and consumer following. The personal touch has paid off for Johanna. Last year she launched a campaign to win a Starbucks commission, which started with her sending a beautifully packaged illustrated cup to a marketing exec each week, and was supported by a wave of tweets and RTs testifying to her enthusiasm and talent. Her work is now appearing in Starbucks across London. Read all about this clever strategy on her blog.
Think informative, and visual
RSA Animates is a master of this. When it animated Daniel Pink’s seminar on motivation, the resulting video went viral, notching up over eight million views. The secret was simple: useful information, presented in a visually stimulating way.
When it comes to digital marketing, the size of your budget doesn’t really matter. It’s what you do with it that counts.