Robinson’s new craft beer is embarrassingly off message

Robinsons new faux craft beers

In the craft beer industry you have to ignore a lot of emails to stay sane. Every morning we  get a run of terrible press releases that are a mixture of bad science, poor design, sexism and desperation, much like the conveyer belt at the end of the Generation Game.

Most pass into the ether, never to be seen again. A PR person has an awkward meeting with a manager somewhere and all is forgiven. But sometimes a journalist just has to rise to it, in some ill-fated bid to make a difference. And so I find myself writing this when I have much more important things to do.

Or do I? Because this new release from Robinsons is so disappointing, so embarrassing, that it could actually do some damage. The image of craft beer is riddled with unfair cliches about beards, pricing, bubbles and so on. The thing is, the people causing those cliches aren’t the guys and gals creating or drinking the beer. It’s the ones who want to.

What Robinsons has forgotten in its dire release of a new IPA and pale ale is that craft beer is led by the creator – be that a brewer or a founder. It is personal, like the mission of Evin to recreate the beers he discovered in America, or Andy of Redemption’s aim to bring great cask ale microbrewing back to London. Everything flows from there in a personal journey. That’s why the beers are so challenging – because they are brewed by and for one person – and the branding is so idiosyncratic, because it came from the mind of one singular, special individual.

What Robinsons has produced is the product of a committee. It is a mess of ideas picked up while watching from a distance. It would have started with a meeting in a boardroom, followed up by research by an agency and pitches by a designer. There would have been a formal game of word association with an A-board (HOPS! HIPSTERS! BEARDS! PUNS! RAY BANS!), some testing of products and endless back-and-forth between a project leader and a design team. Instead of seizing on one good idea, they bastardised all of them. I bet the last person drafted in would have been the brewer. By that time, it was already too late – we had hops with beards in, Bohemian colours, slights about hipsters being weirdos.

Now, Robinsons might respond to this and say all that is untrue. But if it is, then that’s even more worrying – they turned to their greatest creative mind and all they could show for it was a bunch of cliches and inaccurate tropes. Their packaging and recipes would have been dated back in 2010. Why join a race if you only have the pace to join it at the back? Aren’t you just taking the shelf space of a product that could push beer forward much faster?

When it comes to great beer, you shouldn’t release something you couldn’t grow from the ground up. These breweries need to takeaway their routes to market, their PR budget and technical prowess and really think is this a legitimate product? Does it add to the market? Can people buy into it as well as buy it? That rule isn’t just for the regionals. Look at breweries like Magic Spell, who’s branding, business plan and recipes look equally dated.

Regionals could and should play in this market, but they need to understand it. You cannot brew by committee, and if regionals want to tap the amazing opportunity the beer flavour revolution represents, they have to start with a unique concept. I don’t know what craft is, but it is not this. This is exploitation, or at least it would be if it looked like it could see out the year.

12 thoughts on “Robinson’s new craft beer is embarrassingly off message

  1. Nice one. I agree with all of this other than the brewing by committee bit. If you look at someone like Fullers – they absolutely do this. John has to take ideas to his board for approval. I expect BrewDog, with their shareholders, investors, bond holders and equity for punks would need some form of governance in place to ensure good calls are made and money not squandered.

    • Perhaps I have come across too anti-collaboration within companies. Obviously it’s vital to product creation and strategy. The point I wanted to make was that the the beer itself, and the core brand message has to come first. Fuller’s nail it but because the “committee” didn’t try to exploit the marketing opportunity, they adapted their traditional ways instead. The recipes changed and the branding didn’t. Robinson’s failed because they tried to reinvent the wheel with the consumer as the starting point. No great beer has been made to target a consumer – if you follow them you are always behind them.

      As for Brewdog, I think there is an argument to say they have watered down their offering as a result of being more corporate in approach but they still produce brilliant, forward-thinking beers and concepts on occasion. And I bet they aren’t conceived in a boardroom.

    • I can only assume they have found a loophole or got some kind of approval, otherwise they will need a legal team sharpish!

  2. Get a grip, carry on paying through the roof for your artisan hand brewed nonsense if you like, but some people like good beer available at a reasonable price from their local supermarket.

    Keep up the good work robbinsons

    • I think you’ve misunderstood me. These new Robinsons beers ARE the “hand-brewed nonsense” you’re talking about, but unlike the smaller guys they marketed it in a way that tries to hammer that home. I’m all for great beer in supermarkets at a good price – there’s lots of it these days – but this is just a sheep in lambs clothing.

  3. To be fair, while I agree with your points, these images were completely cliched throughout the craft beer world long before Robinsons got involved.

    The designs/pump clips/names/imagery/tone of so many new craft breweries are almost indistinguishable – that punk, renegade, rebel-y type of thing. Robinsons isn’t unique in doing this, despite being a bigger brewery.

    • Very true – they are just the latest. For me it was a breaking point, and they weren’t the first or last to misrepresent the sector.

  4. They would be protected under fair use as parody. Cask ales have had similarly punny names for decades.

    Still shit branding though.

  5. Reading this in August 2017, that link is now dead and presumably everyone is in jail.

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