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Long read: Authenticity is worth its weight in gold

Published:  01 July, 2021

Callum Saunders, head of planning at ZEAL Creative, looks to the latest BrewDog scandal over its “solid gold” cans for lessons on the importance of promotional excellence.

Solid gold does not easily tarnish, therefore it’s somewhat ironic that it’s this precious metal that has further tarnished the world of BrewDog this week, with the beleaguered brewer under fire for a recent promotional marketing campaign.

Earlier this week, the Guardian reported that a man who had won one of 10 ‘solid gold’ cans of BrewDog beer was in fact disappointed to discover that the promotional prize is made largely from brass.

The brand has said that references to ‘solid gold’ were made in error and subsequently removed them from previous communications, but still BrewDog has found itself fighting a fresh fire hot on the heels of allegations about a toxic workplace culture at the company. So what does this promotional hiccup tell us about drinks promotions, and what can wine and spirits brands learn about effective promotional activations?

Promotions and the delivery of ‘effective equity’

The objective of much promotional marketing activity is to unlock incremental display or secure heightened retailer buy-in and support. But wine and spirits brands should also be considerate of the fact that promotions are a form of brand activation, and thus brand equity.

On the one hand, BrewDog’s golden cans are ‘classic BrewDog’ in terms of scale, hype and talk-ability. It is a clever tactic designed to shift volume of product, designed to help reinforce the brand’s irreverent and maverick equity.

But as we have seen from the resulting negative press, equity is a two-way street. Admittedly, the timing is far from ideal for the business, but the fact remains that this has left a sour taste in the mouth of at least one shopper. Promotional prizes are a brand touchpoint and should reflect the high standards shoppers have of brands in our category.

For drinks brands, the need to deliver premium credentials through promotions is perhaps even more critical than more frequent, ‘everyday’ categories and purchases. Shoppers buy into our brands, not just our products, and often pay a premium for the privilege. Delivering rewards and prizes is not just fulfilment of a promotional incentive, but the chance to give people another experience of the 'brand'. Yes, prizes are about driving sales effectiveness, but also about building brand equity through tangible rewards and experiences.

Memory structures and promotional longevity

Truly successful promotional marketing campaigns also offer brands the ability to build longevity and recognition year-on-year, such as Wolf Blass’ cricket partnership, activating that properly through compelling on-pack promotions.

Repeating promotions year on year, whilst making them fresher, bigger and better, allows brands to shift promotions from something shoppers notice, to something they actively look for each year. BrewDog’s gold content controversy means that a subsequent ‘gold’ promotion is unlikely.

Once again, this stresses the importance of thinking about longer-term promotional strategies and the alignment with delivering ‘effective equity’. Get a promotion wrong, or deliver a poor brand experience, and your ability to build year on year is suddenly stunted. True marketing, business and commercial integration is a radical way to approach the dynamic opportunities that promotional marketing can deliver your brand.

Credibility and transparency 

Of course, the world of brand activation doesn’t always run smoothly, and mistakes can sometimes happen. But the opportunity to react to challenges and rectify “hiccups” can deliver just as positive an experience as flawless execution in the first place.

Transparency and trust are critical factors for a business when looking at broad, holistic areas such as purpose and sustainability. But arguably, delivering these values through promotional execution is just as important, as these are direct, one-to-one dynamics between a shopper and a brand.

Turn around a negative experience, or something that hasn’t quite gone to plan, and you are able to demonstrate an agility and a concern that can deliver a truly positive brand experience in the end.

Promotional marketing is a critical element of brand activation for wines and spirits brands, enabling products to stand out in stores, attract and convert shoppers and deliver premium brand experiences that deliver effective results as well as brand equity.

The days of viewing promotional activity as a supporting act are long gone. Our wine and spirits brands need to deliver experience and equity from the shelf back, consistently communicating brand credentials and elevating our products in the minds of the shopper.

And for that, effective promotions run correctly are worth far more than their weight in gold.