Tapped Out: How Fence Sitting Brought an Australian Brewery to its Knees

March 15, 2017

by Mitch Ziems

Earlier this year, our CEO Leela Cosgrove wrote a piece for the site entitled Activism is the New Sex. In it, she warned “Entrepreneurial Activism is the new norm…and you ignore it at your own peril”.

If you didn’t believe it then, one look at the fury surrounding Australian brewery Cooper’s failure to address the controversy surrounding their perceived involvement in a video that, by its very name, made light of marriage inequality, is sure to make you a believer now.

For those who have not been following the situation: on March 9th, Bible Society Australia released a video, Keeping it Light, featuring two members of the Australian Liberal Party discussing whether the gay community should be given the right to marry while drinking Coopers Light Beer.

 

Not only are the subjects drinking Coopers beer, but the video ends with a credit sequence set alongside a can of Coopers, and a message telling viewers to visit bible.com.au/coopers for further information.

The video was released in conjunction with an announcement from Coopers that they were releasing a limited edition can commemorating the Bible Society’s 200th year in Australia.

Four days later, news of the video hit mainstream media, and Coopers were compelled to respond to a boycott by consumers who declared the company bigoted for their involvement in the content above.

And here is where the company made a big mistake.

Ignore for a moment that between 62% and 75% of Australians support marriage equality. Ignore the fact that these “celebratory cans” have predominantly focused on sporting events rather than social issues.

Coopers’ failure here is that they respond to the controversy by not responding to it at all.

At no point in this statement do they affirm the company’s view on marriage equality. Instead, they try to deflect focus onto the ‘debate’; a ‘debate’ that means nothing to the majority of Australians who have already taken sides over the issue.

The following day, Coopers still hadn’t realised their mistake. They issued a new press release not to declare their position on the issue, but to attempt to distance themselves from the Bible Society’s video.

It’s hard to believe that Coopers were not involved in the sponsorship of the video, considering their long history of donating funds to the Bible Society, the timing of the commemorative can announcement, and the artless close-ups of Coopers products found in the video.

Regardless, the issue was, once again, the company’s fence-sitting. Unappeased, the tirade against Coopers continued until they released a video of their own late on March 14th:

 

Do Coopers honestly support marriage equality, or are they more concerned about the bottom line?

At this point, does it even matter?

The damage was done when the brewery failed to take a position when they first had the opportunity to do so. By attempting to remain apolitical, they appeared ignorant. Undoubtedly, cynical supporters of marriage equality will presume this apology stems from nothing more than concern over lost profits, and will continue to avoid supporting the company. Then there are those who feel members of the gay community should not marry, and will boycott for the same reason.

In 2017, businesses must be prepared to take a stand on social issues. That doesn’t have to mean changing your views to play it safe – your dishonesty will be made apparent in time if you do – but rather knowing which side of the line you stand on so that when the day comes that you inadvertently put a foot out of place, you’re not blindsided like Coopers.

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