BrewDog was not ready to bring a chief marketing officer on board, according to the marketer who took on the job for three months at the end of last year.
Jon Evans, whose career has included stints at Britvic, Lucozade Ribena Suntory and Slush Puppy, joined as BrewDog’s first CMO in November 2018. However, he left the craft beer brand in January after it became “fairly obvious” it wasn’t working.
“BrewDog is an amazing business. But what became fairly obvious, it was too early in their evolution to have a CMO,” Evans told Marketing Week at an event held by System1 at Cannes Lions 2019.
“James [Watts, co-founder of BrewDog] is the engine behind the business; he is the ideas, and does things in the way that he does. We got on famously, we just agreed it was a bit early on in their lifestyle to have a CMO.”
Evans was originally tasked with taking 12-year-old BrewDog to the “next level of its evolution”. That included replicating the BrewDog model around the world and getting it to scale.
He was also in charge of coordinating BrewDog’s marketing team, which operates as a digital department and brand department (including events, PR and trade marketing), and then translating that internationally.
Because Watts had a “very clear idea of what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it”, Evans says this meant “it didn’t work having two people trying to shape the strategy and execute it”.
BrewDog still runs with PR at the heart of it – very quick, high cut-through activity, rather than longer-term brand building.
“BrewDog still runs with PR at the heart of it – very quick, high cut-through activity, rather than longer-term brand building,” Evans explains. “I felt it was probably time to do some of the bigger scale things you do in [a brand’s] evolution, like mainstream advertising at scale, more of the conventional things like field marketing, sampling, in-store activation…but still done in a very BrewDog way.”
BrewDog launched its first big brand campaign in May – four months after Evans departed and six years after BrewDog’s Watts said he would rather set fire to his money than spend it on advertising. The campaign broke during the Game of Thrones ad break – one of the most expensive media slots in TV – and ran on posters on the side of buses in London and Manchester.
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But BrewDog had built a lot of fame and awareness long before the campaign. What this proves, Evans says, is that if your product and PR are good enough, and you are a brand with a powerful story and very clear positioning, then you can go a long way without doing conventional advertising.
“BrewDog is the most potent brand I’ve ever worked on in that when it gets mentioned it gets a huge amount of reaction,” Evans adds. “As a brand in terms of how it’s loved and the level of awareness, it’s way ahead of sales. The simple business opportunity for BrewDog is for sales to match the strength of the brand.”
While his tenure at BrewDog may not have lasted long, Evans says he learnt a lot. That includes how to work with founders, who are generally “much more passionate and knowledgeable about their consumers and their business” compared with the average CEO.
“The challenge that brings is then being able to step away and bring in a team, to then allow them to focus on the future and scaling up. You’ve got that conundrum, which is ‘do I let go and trust someone else?’ But you’ve got to let that person come in, make some mistakes maybe, learn from them, get it right…basically train them up in the way you want them to be.
“It depends on culture, the ability of the founder to let go and accept it won’t be exactly the way they would do it. Because you’re never going to meet somebody who would do it in exactly the way you would.”
Sticking with a marketing campaign
From Evans’s marketing experience, which spans more than two decades, he says it is often the case that brands don’t stick with a creative idea for long enough. This is largely due to the short tenure of CMOs and marketing bosses moving between brands quickly, meaning there is “no corporate memory” so a new team will often come in and ditch everything the previous team did.
Proving the power of sticking with a good creative idea, when Evans worked at Ribena he ran the same campaign for two years in a row, saving the brand hundreds of thousands of pounds while increasing its market share.
“Rather than spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a new ad, we decided as a team to repeat the same campaign for the second year because our market share went up, we know it works. But we could spend more money on media because we weren’t spending it on agency fees and production,” Evans explains.
“For me that’s a no-brainer but you’d be amazed at how hard it is to get people to do that because everybody wants to make their own thing, they want to learn, to prove themselves. Some people would rather make a worse ad but say they’ve made an ad and it be new than repeat something someone else has done very effectively.”
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If it came down to it, Evans says he would rather spend his money on creative over media – “because if you can get a really good ad it will be talked about, it will drive fame, it will be shared on social media,” he says, citing Lucozade Sport’s Anthony Joshua campaign, which he worked on in 2017.
“Although the media buy was so tiny, the creative work was so good it didn’t matter because it reached an incredible audience – I couldn’t have bought that audience,” Evans says, adding it is “much more credible” when someone likes an ad and shares it on social rather than in a TV ad break where people might miss it.
“The worst thing you can do is spend big on media with an average bit of creative, because then it’s wasted.”