24 June 2021

BrewDog and Mikkeller embroiled in the culture wars

Europe | Looks like the US culture wars have spread to Europe, turbocharged by social media. BrewDog became the first target. But Danish craft brewer Mikkeller was not far behind. On the morning of 12 June 2021, an anonymous group put up several posters outside Mikkeller’s Copenhagen headquarters and accused the brewer of sexism and racism via an Instagram account.

The anonymi also approached the website goodbeerhunting.com, which then ran the story. In a statement to the website, Perneille Pang, Mikkeller’s head of PR, said that “[b]ecause we have not received any concrete criticism in relation to this protest we are not sure what specifically we are being criticised for.”

Throw dirt enough, and some will stick

After accusations of misogyny and sexual abuse rocked the US craft brewing industry in May, the protests against BrewDog and Mikkeller are the latest organised, grassroots efforts to keep cultural and business issues in the beer industry front of mind, at a time when they risk being lost amid a busy news cycle, the website goodbeerhunting.com correctly points out.

BrewDog and Mikkeller are targets of criticism not just because of their alleged misdeeds, but because both breweries have expanded across the globe through their unconventional marketing and their self-fashioning as “better” companies.

Having placed their founders’ attitudes and identities at the centre of their marketing efforts, they became advocates for broader change in the industry, goodbeerhunting.com says.

A digital megaphone

“Much of this was the work of social media. It amplifies new voices, accelerates the rate at which ideas spread, and broadens the scale at which both people and ideas can win influence,” the Economist newspaper argued recently. This may help explain why US social issues like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have spread across the world.

The trouble is, social media are not a one-way street. BrewDog and Mikkeller may have used them to present themselves as disrupters of a staid and profit-driven brewing industry in order to garner recognition and support, but now anybody with a grievance can take to social media and use their power to influence affairs.

Having ridden on the social media wave to great heights BrewDog and Mikkeller have become vulnerable to attack and if sustained it could be very damaging.

Because of social media being a double-edged sword, the risks to brewers’ reputations and valuations are immense, Rick Keen of Reptrak, an insights firm, said at the recent Brewers of Europe Forum. In case brewers had not been aware: “A massive power shift is coming. A company’s reputation is literally in the hands of the public. Your reputation has become central to your business success and survival,” he pointed out. BrewDog and Mikkeller had better plot out their next steps in the on-going debates carefully.

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