Australians Smite Coopers Brewery Over Mistake of Biblical Proportions

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Faced with growing calls for a boycott from drinkers and retailers alike, Coopers Brewery, one of Australia’s largest beer companies, has apologized for its relationship with an incendiary religious group.

The controversy started last week when Bible Society Australia released a video—ostensibly sponsored by Coopers as part of the pair’s collaborative “Keeping it Light” campaign—that featured two prominent politicians debating same sex marriage. Given Bible Society’s opposition to marriage equality, which GBH contributor Luke Robertson catalogued this weekend, people were quick to voice outrage at the brewery on social media.

In turn, Coopers cancelled the release of its Bible Society commemorative cans, which were meant to celebrate the religious organization’s 200th anniversary. It also pledged its own unequivocal support of same sex marriage by promising to join the advocacy group, Australian Marriage Equality.

Update: Brooklyn Brewery, who partnered with Coopers in 2015 for Australian distribution, and whose Australian supply of Brooklyn Lager has been brewed by Coopers since then, has issued a statement to GBH:

“This was the first I heard about it," Brooklyn chairman and co-founder Steve Hindy writes via email. "I think our PR person, who is at SXSW in Austin, is reaching out to Coopers. To my knowledge, there have been no repercussions for Brooklyn in Australia. In our home market and many markets where we sell beer, we have been supportive of the LGBT community's fundraisers and events. Not sure about Australia. Obviously, we have nothing to do with Coopers' marketing partnerships.”

WHY IT MATTERS
While it ultimately voiced definitive support of marriage equality, Coopers didn’t immediately react to the public outcry with a hardline stance. Rather, it stumbled through the backlash by releasing a string of conflicting messages. This is, of course, certainly the company’s right. But it seems to have been the wrong strategy, as it only inspired more derision. Laid out, the whole chronology of explanations reads like an inelegant crash course in PR crisis mismanagement.
 
A timeline:

* To early criticism, Coopers responded by defending the video, saying, “As a mature community it’s a debate we need to have but in a goodspirited [sic] and good natured way.” In that statement, it offered no qualms with its name being attached to the project.

* When that didn’t work, the brewery changed course a bit, claiming it did not give the group permission to so prominently feature its products in the video, nor was it acting as a sponsor.

* Finally, as the storm continued to rage, the brewery offered a solemn video apology, saying it “never intended to make light of such an important issue.” It was in this video where the company declared explicitly that it stands in support of marriage equality.

Coopers appears to have some inconsistent affiliations. According to the Sydney Morning Herald the company is a “longtime donor” to both Bible Society and other religious and conservative groups. Coopers itself—a 155-year-old company—has always upheld Christian values as a core tenet of its philosophy. At the same time, the Australian Financial Review notes that the company has also been a sponsor of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. But it's also perhaps worth noting that Coopers withdrew its sponsorship this past June.

As for the final about-face, in which the company made clear its support of gay marriage: that was published today (Tuesday, March 14), following days of boycott talk that had already begun to pick up steam, as a number of bars and drinkers started publicly swearing off the brand. It would be pure conjecture to say whether its newfound public support of same sex marriage is a response to boycott concerns or a genuine reflection of the company’s beliefs. But it’s probably safe to assume that Coopers is ready for this week to end.

—Dave Eisenberg
 
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