Brewdog is no stranger to a marketing blunder. In fact, its ‘controversies’ section on Wikipedia is longer than all other sections on the page combined. 

Its latest PR own goal comes in the form of a so-called ‘anti-advertising’ campaign for the World Cup, which is being held in Qatar.

The business partnered with comms agency Saatchi & Saatchi to create a series of billboards unveiled this week, which are designed to draw attention to a range of human rights abuses perpetrated by the 2022 host nation.

As part of the campaign, all profits generated through tournament sales of its Lost Lager will be donated to charity. On the surface, it all seems very admirable.

But there’s nothing the British public hates more than hypocrisy, and it wasn’t long before people began pointing out the inconsistencies between the company’s words and its actions.

Attention was drawn first to the fact BrewDog would continue to show World Cup matches in its venues despite the very public stance against the tournament. Second, it was revealed the business had only recently signed a deal to distribute its beer in Qatar.

Perhaps the first decision is defensible. BrewDog alluded to the extra money it would make for charity and its responsibility to the fans, who will no doubt want to see the tournament.

However, the decision to sell its beer in the Gulf state feels less so. In March, the £286m turnover business took a moral stance by suspending all of its shipments to Russia in the aftermath of its invasion of Ukraine. So why is it selling beer in a country where homosexuality is illegal and human rights abuses are rife?

A defiant James Watt hit out at critics on Twitter. “If a bit of the usual Twitter hate is the price we have to pay for massively raising awareness of the continued human rights abuses in Qatar and the obvious corruption of FIFA, then so be it,” he argued.

But the statement came across more delusional than compelling. The notion of BrewDog single-handedly raising awareness of Qatar’s human rights record – a record that has been particularly well publicised in the news in the run-up to the World Cup – is laughable.

And now more than ever, BrewDog can’t afford to brush aside accusations of its words failing to match up to its actions. 

Consumers are more critical than ever of companies that fall short of genuine claims, especially in areas like social justice or the environment. On the latter point, the ASA and CMA stepped in to tackle greenwashing earlier this year, and many brands have already fallen foul of the rules.

Many will see the latest BrewDog marketing strategy as yet another example of an effort to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes.

However, given what we know about punk brewing captain James Watt, he’s unlikely to row back on his strategy any time soon.