BrewDog says the tagline on poster and media adverts is intended to shock people into thinking about climate change; adding it had carefully considered where such ads would be displayed. It obscures two letters of the swear word to avoid publishing it in full.
However, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled the implied swear word could cause ‘serious and widespread offense’ in posters and free newspaper advertising and has banned these ads. It will continue, however, to allow the tagline to be used in certain targeted publications.
BrewDog's response to the ruling? 'The ASA can go and f*** themselves,' it says - this time without obscuring the expletive.
Advertising outside schools
In August, BrewDog announced it had become the world’s first carbon negative international beer business: going beyond carbon neutral. With around £30m ($39m) of green investments, it wants to remove twice as much carbon from the air than it emits every year.
Its pledge was accompanied by an advertising campaign – with the headline ‘F**k You CO2’ – across the UK. A total of 25 complainants challenged whether the text was offensive and inappropriate for display in a medium where it could be seen by children.
This included outdoor posters displayed outside Fulham Boys’ School, Camden Town Centre and Chiswick in London, in Northumberland Street, Newcastle upon Tyne and in George Square, Glasgow.
BrewDog defended the campaign, saying it wanted to catch people's attention and make them consider the planet and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
Today, the Advertising Standards Agency banned our activism advert.— James Watt (@BrewDogJames) November 18, 2020
They can go and fuck themselves.
We are facing an existential climate crisis.
I would also like to thank @MetroUK & @TheEconomist for understanding the importance of our climate campaign & running the ad. pic.twitter.com/yPTh3oxjco
It said every poster site had been planned in accordance with guidelines on proximity to schools and religious buildings as advised by Outsmart. It also highlighted that the campaign had run at a time when schools were closed for the summer holidays, and so any exposure to the ad by children at school would have been limited.
BrewDog said the ads implied a swear word but that it was not explicitly stated, which it believed followed precedent of what has been deemed acceptable. It did not believe the message would have caused harm or offence.
However, the ASA disagreed and has upheld the complaint. “We acknowledge that the poster showed an obscured version of the word; that it had been placed in accordance with guidelines on proximity to schools and religious buildings; that the ad had run during school summer holidays and that one local authority (Newcastle City Council) had been asked and considered the ad acceptable for use.
“Nevertheless, we considered it would be clear to most of those who saw it that the ad referred to the word “Fuck” in the context of the expression “Fuck you” and was making a pun, in reference to the impact of climate change.
“We considered the word was so likely to offend a general audience that such a reference should not appear in media where it was viewable by such an audience.
“We therefore concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious and widespread offence and was not appropriate for display in untargeted media.”
Was BrewDog's 'F**k you CO2' ad acceptable?
Fine line for newspaper and magazine advertising
The presence of the campaign in Metro, The Week and The Economist was also highlighted by complainants.
Here, the ASA upheld the complain for the advert in the Metro, because the paper is a free, widely available newspaper. While the Metro said that 98% of readers are aged 18 or over – and stated it had not received any direct complaints about the ad – the ASA ruled that, “although the ad intended to use a pun to get its message across, we considered it would be clear to most readers that it referred to a word that was likely to be considered unacceptable by many readers in untargeted media.
“We concluded, therefore, that the ad was likely to cause serious and widespread offence in Metro and was not appropriate for use in that publication.”
However, the ASA deemed it was acceptable for the ad to appear in The Week and The Economist: given that is in line with similar use of language elsewhere in these publications. The Economist stated it had considered the ad before publishing it: and concluded that the publication was not targeted at children and that – while some readers might find the ad distasteful – it would not be offensive or harmful to either adults or children. While the publication does not use swear words often, it does not have a ban on their use.
Similarly, The Week highlighted that the average age of their readers is 52 years old and 96% receive the magazine via subscription.
“We also acknowledged these publications were not free and had to be actively purchased in a shop or by subscription. While some readers might have found it distasteful, we considered it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence in those publications,” concluded the ASA.
BrewDog sustainability initiatives
The brewery and UK bars are now wind powered
BrewDog turns its spent grain into green gas to power the brewery
It is building an onsite anaerobic digester to turn wastewater into clean water, and produce CO2 to carbonate beers
It is electrifying its vehicle fleet
In building local brewing sites across the UK, EU, US and Australia, it has significantly reduced the miles its beer travels to reach the consumer.
BrewDog is also helping lead wider sustainability initiatives: such as backing alternative climate crisis conference ALT COP on November 16 after COP26 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.