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16 July 2021

All that glitters is not gold: BrewDog’s “solid gold” can scandal

United Kingdom | BrewDog is making headlines again, but not as designed. A winner of one of BrewDog’s “solid gold” beer cans has asked the advertising watchdog to investigate its claim that the prize is worth GBP 15 000 (USD 20 700), the BBC reported on its website on 1 July 2021.

Between November 2020 and March 2021, BrewDog ran two promotions, advertising that 50 gold cans were hidden in cases of its beer. Some punters thought they had hit gold when they found a glittering can in their packs – but only until they found out that the can was merely a brass can plated with gold. One jeweller put its value at GBP 500 (USD 688).

One of the peeved winners has asked the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to probe whether any rules were broken and the ASA confirmed it was looking into the matter.

A BrewDog spokesperson said the use of the term “solid gold” was a mistake, but it stood by its valuation, saying the estimate was made up of more than just the metal used. Per the BBC, the company said it could not guarantee their value on the open market and declined to answer whether it would buy the can back for GBP 15,000 minus costs.

Getting into trouble with the ASA again

BrewDog has had brushes with the ASA in the past, not least twice over its use of offensive language (it had used the word f**k) in advertising, but this time the accusations seems weightier, if the ASA rules that BrewDog has intentionally misled its customers.

The law firm Lewis Silkin points out that it does seem reasonable for BrewDog to argue that the value of the cans is not based merely on their constituent parts. Think of collectable baseball cards or stamps, which are worth far more than the paper and ink from which they are made.

But the burden of proving that the cans are worth GBP 15 000 lies squarely with BrewDog, not the prize winners, the lawyers argue. “Given that these special gold-plated cans are so unusual and don’t have a usual retail value, the company might need to get creative,” they say.

Luckily, the ASA’s bark is worse than its bite. Even if the ASA finds there has been a breach of the advertising code, the ASA cannot impose financial penalties.

However, the gold can scandal is another PR disaster for BrewDog as it comes only weeks after several dozen BrewDog ex-workers had posted a letter on Twitter, accusing the brewer of fostering a toxic culture, which had led to a “significant number” of former staff to suffer from mental illness as a result.

It will be interesting to see how BrewDog will emerge from this mess.