What do you do as a consumer?

Coopers Beer brand, crisis management

In the light of the recent #CoopersGate, as a consumer and a brand strategist I wonder: where do we go from here?

Last week, Coopers’ beer was featured in Bible Society’s video ‘Keeping It Light’. In the video liberal party politicians, Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie, who have different views on gay marriage, are having a “light discussion” on a “heavy topic” – Or, as the gay community might see it: A one-sided conversation between two representatives of the same political party, hosted by a religious organisation and supported by light Australian beer.

I, as a gay male, question: Don’t we need to have different views represented to legitimise calling it a discussion? Does it need to be light beer, because we are discussing gay issues? Why is it a light discussion, when it’s an issue that matters so much to such a big part of our society and what is Coopers role in this?

Coopers were quick to defend and protect their image. They stated that they were not pushing any religious message in their new collaboration with the Bible Society and the release of “celebratory cans” featuring bible verses. Coopers argued that they had done many similar collaborations in the past, and that the video had the purpose of being a “light hearted, but balanced debate about an important topic”.

A subsequent press release stated that Coopers did not give permission for their beer to feature in the video, that Coopers support and respect the different beliefs held by our community and that they “do not wish to try and change that”.

None of this seemed to calm the audience down; a boycott was brewing. Bad ratings of the beer were pouring onto Coopers’ Facebook account. Pubs across Australia were refusing to serve the debated beer. So, what did Coopers decide to do about it? They released a very heavy-hearted sombre video of managing director Tim Cooper and director of finance and corporate affairs, Melanie Cooper. The pair declared, with eyes jumping in short rapid moves along the lines of a script: “Our company supports marriage equality”

Coopers Beer brand, brand direction, crisis management

My question is: Why and how did we end up here?

I think Coopers should have taken a step back and tried to understand their audience and customer base before deciding that it would be a great idea to merge alcohol and religion. The fact is, that those two just never sound that good together, no matter what religion you choose to preach. It is a bit like McDonalds and the Olympics – you’ve got my point? It seems out of touch with the audience and no matter how in tone your message is with your brand, your customers are what keep you going. Without their support, who is going to drink your beer, eat your burger? To put it in other words; your audience should always be in the centre of your decisions.

My question is: What do I do now, as a consumer?

I am European and I am shocked about how far behind Australia is on the matter of marriage equality – why is it even a discussion we need to have? What century is this? However, we can’t blame Coopers for it all. But what is remarkable about Coopers, the incident and the brand, is the transition from a traditional valued Australian brand, to a modern, marriage equality-supporting brand. It seems drastic and rushed. Did this only happen because Coopers were called out on their bad decision? And when a defensive press release didn’t work, bigger more drastic movements had to be considered.

You could say, as my dear friend, producer and LGBTI advocate, James Findlay, put it “We spoke, they listened”. I can see the reward in doing so. It encourages other brands to do the same: To take a stand, update their brand story and figure out who their audience is in 2017. Maybe other brands would follow and Australia would move into the 21century with the rest of the world. We all would benefit – but did Coopers listen? Isn’t it just an illusion?

Coopers chose to collaborate with the Bible Society. Coopers chose to let the Bible Society communicate with their products, (presumably) without seeking any type of consent or supervision over the content. Coopers were caught, or trapped, in the message and Australia reacted swiftly. Coopers defended their position, then they sought to explain and, finally Coopers apologised before the damage became toxic. But, why didn’t they just brew their beer?

When I talk to clients, entrepreneurs and businesses about how to evolve and better their brands, the talk is often about how to move from what (a product focus) to why (a vision). To see your brand not just in what you do and how you do it, but why you’re doing it and who you’re doing it for. Bad choices don’t come free from consequences. This is why it’s important to invest time in getting it right, the first time around.

Was this a conversation worth having for Coopers? Definitely not. Was it worth it for Australia? I guess so. Should I go back to buying Coopers and support that the business now, with knife to throat, finally stood up for my people? I am not sure. What do you think?

Louis Larsen

Brand Strategy Intern

Image courtesy of Coopers

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