Editor-at-large Keith Berg looks at Australia’s latest FMCG controversy…
It’s only March and already we have what will probably be the biggest PR backfire of the year.
The Adelaide-based Cooper family, owner of the famous brewing company of the same name, has been a longstanding supporter of the Bible Society and has donated millions of dollars over the years to a range of philanthropic organisations.
To celebrate the Bible Society’s 200th birthday, Coopers put out a range commemorative light beer, shipped in packaging which features verses from the bible.
Already this isn’t sounding good.
The Bible Society followed up with its ‘Keeping it Light’ videos which appeared on its website. According to the Society:
“Keeping it Light is a short series of videos showing that it is possible to have a light discussion on the heaviest topics. It’s one of the ways we’re celebrating 200 years of the Bible and Bible Society in Australia … It’s much more interesting to talk and listen to people who see things differently to us. Sure it’s not easy or comfortable at times. But then, it’s probably why so much of the Bible is about how to have conversations with each other and with God.”
One video featured a debate on marriage equality, for and against, with the debating MPs Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson supping on the Coopers product during the chat. That’s when the compost, as they say, hit the ventilator.
There has been a massive social media backlash over using a religious organisation to make a political point. Long time Coopers drinkers have sworn off the product, and pubs have publicly refused to continue stocking it.
Coopers’ attempts at damage control have been less than excellent. Firstly it tried to clarify that the videos were well intended and in the interests of open social discussion. Then it denied that it had authorised the videos, a claim which the Bible Society backed up with a press release: “We want you to know that Coopers did not give permission for our Premium Light beer to feature in, or ‘sponsor’ the Bible Society’s ‘Keeping it Light’ video featuring Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson.”
In our own industry, PR is a perhaps a matter of matching up reality with expectations.
Many years ago, the Shell company undertook a major overhaul of its retail network. Stores were to receive a substantial upgrade and the illuminated Lazy-S forecourt canopy, which we see now today, was rolled out. It was launched by Shell to its franchisees with great pomp and ceremony as the AWANA Program.
However, the execution was not as fast or as efficient as the dealers expected, so they dubbed the AWANA Program with a new meaning to the acronym: “All Wank And No Action”.
For now, it looks like the Coopers problem isn’t going away without some serious backpedalling, as this single PR balls-up has already done some considerable damage to their brand.
There’s a lesson in that for all of us in the retail game.