The chief executive of BrewDog has paid out almost £500,000 from his own pocket to winners of a bungled “solid gold” beer can promotion which he has admitted made the controversial brewer look “dishonest and disingenuous”.
James Watt said he got so personally carried away with the Willy Wonka-inspired promotion, which hid 50 gold cans in cases of beer, that he made some “costly mistakes” that misled treasure hunters.
He said he mistakenly believed the cans were made of solid gold – they were in fact made mostly of brass and only plated with the precious metal – which the UK advertising regulator later said would have meant they were actually worth £363,000 each.
“The initial tweets I sent out told customers of the prospect of finding ‘solid gold cans’,” Watt wrote on LinkedIn, claiming each one was still worth £15,000. “It was a silly mistake. Things started to go wrong when the winners got their cans.”
A number of the winners contacted the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which regulates advertising and marketing in the UK, complaining that the “solid gold” claim was misleading.
The ASA subsequently upheld the complaints about the marketing with the false claim appearing in three of 50 promotional tweets, according to Watt.
“Those three tweets were enough to do a lot of damage,” said Watt. “It blew up into a media storm. The gold can saga was headline news. The campaign launch morphed into a frenzy, with attacks coming in from all quarters. It got pretty grim. I should have been more careful.”
Watt admitted that his initial tweets were misleading and that the company “deserved the flak”. “We were made to look dishonest and disingenuous and took a real hammering,” he said.
The chief executive said he went on to contact all 50 winners to offer them the “full cash amount” as an alternative if they were unhappy with the original prize of keeping the can and receiving £15,000 in BrewDog shares.
“All in all, it ended up costing me around £470,000 – well over two and a half years’ salary,” said Watt, who says he now owns 40 of the gold cans.
BrewDog has previously been criticised for its marketing practices and workplace culture.
Last month, the Scotland-based brewer lost its status as a B Corp less than two years after joining the scheme, which offers certification of a company’s ethical commitment to the environment, community and staff.
The company, which was recently called hypocritical for running a World Cup ad campaign highlighting Qatar’s poor human rights record despite being criticised by the Unite Hospitality union for the treatment of its own workers, achieved B Corp status last February.