BrewDog’s Anti-World Cup Sponsorship: A PR Own Goal?

Ever since Qatar was announced as the venue for the 2022 World Cup by the disgraced former FIFA President, Sepp Blatter back in 2010, this year’s tournament has been fraught with controversy.

As the World Cup has drawn closer, the idea of Qatar hosting has grown ever more controversial, due to allegations of bribery that surrounded FIFA’s awarding of the tournament and the Gulf state’s appalling human rights record.

The multinational craft brewery and pub chain, BrewDog is no stranger to socio-political campaigns. From climate change to criticism of Boris Johnson during the summer of 2022, its always raised its voice about contemporary issues.

The rebel beer brand recently announced that it would be an ‘anti-sponsor’ of the World Cup and despite the outwardly positive message, the company has been criticised for being hypocritical.

So, is the company taking a noble stance here or is it simply a shameless promotional advertising exercise?


What is Brewdog’s anti-sponsorship all about?

Less than two weeks before the World Cup was due to kick off in the Middle East, BrewDog announced via CEO James Watt’s LinkedIn page and a Saatchi & Saatchi advertising campaign that the company were ‘anti-sponsors’ of the tournament.

In his post on LinkedIn, Watt, who himself is no stranger to controversy, explained what BrewDog’s ‘anti-sponsorship’ of the World Cup meant.

(SIC)“Football is meant to be for everyone. But in Qatar, homosexuality is illegal, flogging is an accepted form of punishment, and it’s OK for 6,500 workers to die building your stadiums. That’s why we’re kicking off.”

Billboards have lined city streets up and down the country and BrewDog’s social media campaign has been loud and proud. There’s no doubt as to the company’s views on Qatar hosting the World Cup.

BrewDog has also pledged to donate every penny they receive for their Lost Lager beer during the World Cup to human rights charities.

Why is Brewdog receiving backlash?

Almost as soon as BrewDog’s campaign began, the social media finger-pointing started with claims of hypocrisy being quickly levelled at the rebel beer brand.

One of the first issues that was raised with their ‘anti-sponsorship’ was the fact that the company admitted that they would be showing live World Cup games in their bars.

BrewDog responded by arguing that they “don’t want to stop people watching football” and that the “more football we show, the more Lost [lager] is sold, the more money goes to charity.”

However, one of the brand’s key principles in its early days was that it wouldn’t show sports as it didn’t want to have the loutish behaviour that is sometimes a by-product of drinking beer and watching sports games, particularly football, in its bars.

Even if that policy has been dropped, the fact that games are being shown in BrewDog bars does somewhat compromise the integrity of the original campaign.

Not only this, but it has also emerged that BrewDog still sells its beer in Qatar via a third-party distributor.

There’s also the problem of BrewDog’s historic treatment of its employees.

Unite Hospitality were quick to condemn the beer brand and said that while the treatment of workers in Qatar has been a scandal, “BrewDog is one of the worst employers in the brewing industry when it comes to doing the right thing by workers.”

The company has made significant changes to its employee welfare system and culture but for many people, it still smacks of hypocrisy.

Is Brewdog’s anti-World Cup sponsorship a PR own goal?

Ultimately, this does feel as if it’s a PR exercise for BrewDog.

All PR and advertising campaigns can come under fire but, in this case, the beer brand have left themselves wide open for criticism.

Yes, this campaign has no doubt raised the profile of BrewDog and there’s been a healthy proportion of positives reactions to this, but the cynics have shouted loudly on social media about this and sadly for the company, they make a good point.

By attempting to come across as a business of integrity, thanks to a sizeable backlash, they’ve achieved the opposite and scored a bit of a PR own goal.

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