Twitter is outraged. And you really don’t want to outrage Twitter if you value your reputation. I talk, of course, of BrewDog and the Birmingham craft beer bar now to be known as The Wolf, which is now looking at a healthy upturn in its takings this week thanks to some misjudged heavy handedness from the Scottish brewer (or rather, the brewer’s lawyers).
A dispute arose over the use of the brand name Lone Wolf. Brother and sister Joshua and Sallie McFadden wanted to use it for their new Birmingham craft beer bar, and it seems they had the idea before BrewDog decided to give its new spirits division the same name.
Cue solicitors’ letters and the eventual change of name of the bar to The Wolf. And all this before BrewDog backed down yesterday, with co-founder James Watt tweeting that “our lawyers got a bit trigger happy. We are happy for the Lone Wolf bar in Birmingham to keep using the name.”
Too little, too late, rather like BrewDog’s offer of discount spirit brands for The Wolf as compensation. Sallie told Eddie Mair, in a far-reaching interview on Radio 4’s PM programme: “I don’t think it would be appropriate for us to stock their vodka and gin. It would be a bit on a constant reminder, I think.”
Sallie said she and her brother had been shocked to get the solicitor’s letter “because I know BrewDog have always been quite open that they fight for independence and they don’t like massive corporations and things like this, so yes, it was a bit shocking”.
The matter’s made all the more ironic, of course, after BrewDog’s well publicised spat with the estate of Elvis Presley when it decided to launch a beer called Elvis Juice. At the time, the brewer said: “Here at BrewDog, we don’t take too kindly to petty pen pushers attempting to make a fast buck by discrediting by discrediting our good name under the guise of copyright infringement.”
It’s fair to say, BrewDog hasn’t come out of this well, especially as the McFaddens have had to go through all the expense of a name change, including signage, stationery and so forth. But they have built a new fan base on Twitter.
Typical comments have included: “As an EFP [Equity for Punks] holder, I’m really saddened to hear you can’t keep your legal dept in check @BrewDogJames. Poor form.” Then: “Today’s new word: Punkservative – a portmanteau to describe Corporations who trumpet Independence but act….well, like Corporations.” Ouch.
This couldn’t have come at a worse time for BrewDog as the company prepares for an end-of-month general meeting to discuss changes to its articles of association. This could see a major new investor arrive, much to the chagrin of some existing equity punks who thought they would be the only shareholders. It is thought BrewDog could sell as much as 30% to a new investor.
BrewDog has gained much publicity and, indeed, sold an awful lot of beer since its foundation in 2007 on the back of what are, most certainly, untraditional marketing routes (remember the licensing protest feature a placard-waving dwarf, or the beer presented inside a taxidermised squirrel?). The Lone Wolf debacle is the first significant sign that BrewDog’s lustre is starting to wane.
Its original supporters backed it because of its independent, anti-corporate spirit. Now Tweets such as this are flying around: “I think it’s now also important that indie bars ,bottle shops & festivals unit in their support for @TheWolfBham and boycott @BrewDog #indie” It will be interested to see how the brewer for whom the word “maverick” became the adjective of choice will ride this storm.
One final thought: did those BrewDog lawyers really not discuss the Lone Wold situation with the BrewDog bosses before sending out that letter? I find that very hard to believe.