BrewDog’s latest stunt appears to follow in the footsteps of western officials and media outlets that have criticised Qatar over its human rights record.
BrewDog has signed an agreement to distribute its beers in Qatar during the World Cup despite flashing banners and plastering ‘big talk’ in an attempt to criticise the the host nation.
This week, the international network of breweries and pubs with headquarters in Scotland, bragged about being the “proud anti-sponsor of the World F*Cup”.
However, social media users have called out the company, which is distributing its products in the Gulf country via the Qatar Distribution Company (QDC) – the only distributor of alcohol in Qatar.
According to reports, the brewery conducts business indirectly with QDC through an agent who distributes to customers throughout Qatar and the entire Middle East.
The revelations have appeared to serve as an own goal for the company, with social media users describing its controversial campaign as a marketing stunt.
“Hey @BrewDog u seem to have gone quiet all of a sudden since your ambush marketing faux protest virtue signalling got called out,” one Twitter user said.
“Quick reminder though, here’s your big promotion in Qatar right after you signed the deal with the government-owned distributor…in time for the WC!” he added.
BrewDog launched its “anti-sponsorship campaign” this week to protest Qatar’s human rights record, jumping on mass criticism of the host nation by European media.
“This isn’t a World Cup. It’s a World F*Cup,” it said in a statement announcing the campaign. “Football’s been dragged through the mud before a single ball’s been kicked. Let’s be honest: Qatar won it through bribery. On an industrial scale,” the company claimed.
As part of its advertising campaign, BrewDog put up billboards denouncing Qatar and the World Cup. “First Russia,” the banner read, referring to the 2018 FIFA World Cup host nation, “then Qatar. Can’t wait for North Korea.”
However, it also said a number of fan zones would be put up around the UK to watch the competition, with earnings from sales of its Lost Lager brand during the competition going to human rights organisations.
The company said it would donate every dollar made from the sale of its Lost Lager beverage during the World Cup to support human rights charities.
“We don’t want to stop people drinking beer and watching football. Fans shouldn’t be denied that just because of corruption,” BrewDog replied to one user on Twitter who challenged the move saying “don’t show any of the games.”
“Slightly hypocritical – “we’ll virtue signal, unless it hits our margins,” another Twitter user pointed out.
“This is a sizable contradiction from BrewDog. BrewDog will be showing the matches live on screens in venues and profiting from revenue generated from all food and drink, other than Lost Lager. Whoops,” said Andrew Cahill, vice president of sports and entertainment at MKTG, according to reports.
“Not to mention the accusations around their own history of cutting corners on H&S [health and safety] and bullying staff,” replied Chris Soult, associate director at CSM Sport & Entertainment, citing previous complaints by staff of the company.
According to reports, the craft brewer was dubbed one of the worst employers in the sector by the British trade union, Unite.
The Unite Union called BrewDog’s campaign “disingenuous” and pointed out the pub chain’s own issues with its staff, after hundreds of employees signed a petition on the “culture of fear” at the company.
“The treatment of workers in Qatar is an international scandal, but BrewDog have a cheek saying anything about workers’ rights when hundreds of their own workers—past and present—signed an open letter detailing a ‘culture of fear,’ with workers demanding an apology for ‘harassing, assaulting, belittling, insulting, or gaslighting them,’” Bryan Simpson, Unite’s industrial organiser for the hospitality sector, told City A.M.
“This is yet another disingenuous advertising campaign designed to distract customers from the fact that BrewDog is one of the worst employers in the brewing industry when it comes to doing the right thing thing by workers.”
In a statement to City A.M., BrewDog took aim at other companies, saying: “Apple sells iPhones in Qatar – that doesn’t mean it endorses human rights abuses. Neither do we. We are doing our bit to raise awareness of these scandals and injustices and will keep doing so.”
“If people want to attack brands, maybe they’d be better off turning their attention to the likes of Adidas, Kia, and Visa who are all official partners.”
Qatar 2022 target of ‘racism’
With the global spotlight being placed on the Middle East’s first ever FIFA World Cup, host nation Qatar has been the subject of incessant Western scrutiny over its human rights record. This prompted many, including top officials, to label such headlines as Islamophobic and racist.
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani as well as other top Qatari officials have repeatedly slammed the “racism” behind the campaigns, especially since they have continued to emerge despite Qatar addressing concerns and launching major reforms.
Last month, the amir described the campaigns as “ferocious” and “malicious” and questioned intentions behind the criticism.
Echoing similar sentiments, Sheikh Mohammed also cited racism.
Speaking to Le Monde, the Qatari diplomat said he came across recent commentary that accused Qatar of not being “intellectually and culturally ready” to host the World Cup.
“Is such racism acceptable in Europe in the 21st century? Football belongs to everyone. It is not reserved for a club of elites. Four hundred and fifty million Arabs are delighted that the World Cup is finally being held in their region,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
More recently, the Chief Executive Officer of Qatar 2022 Nasser Al-Khater said on Monday that the campaign against Qatar and its hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is linked to Europe’s refusal to see a country outside its region take on the tournament.
“European countries feel they have monopoly over the World Cup. Europe has hosted 11 tournaments out of 22 tournaments, of course it refuses that a country like Qatar or an Arab Muslim country hosts a tournament like the World Cup,” Al-Khater told Al Jazeera Arabic in a televised interview.
Meanwhile, the World Cup CEO added that Europe has long seen the Arab world as a conflict-ridden region, a depiction that has also been repeatedly highlighted in its media discourse.
This week, French outlet Le Canard Enchaîné has come under fire for publishing a caricature depicting Arabs in ‘Qatar’ football kits as terrorists. The image employs the exhausted use of ‘savages’ – ‘long bearded’ angry men with dark hair, angry expressions in possession of guns and knives.
However, Al-Khater believes the World Cup will debunk such images portrayed by Europe.
When asked about Qatar’s strategy in responding to the ongoing criticism, Al-Khater said that some were worth responding to while others were unworthy of an official address.
“For us, the success of the World Cup is a priority,” he said.