The SA brewing company suffered a massive public relations own-goal over the weekend, after it “teamed up” with the Bible Society Australia to celebrate the organisation’s 200th anniversary.
The arrangement saw the launch of a limited edition Coopers Premium Light, specially emblazoned with Bible verses.
But the reaction fell flat, particularly when the product was included prominently in a campaign by the Bible Society – to which Coopers is a longtime donor – featuring Liberal MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie debating same-sex marriage “in a civil and respectful way”.
The filmed debate featured several cutaways of the Coopers Light beers the pair were sipping while they “kept it light” in the discussion.
An escalating PR disaster saw several interstate venues join a boycott of Coopers products.
BREAKING: Sircuit gay nightclub in Melbourne dump @coopersbrewery stock into the bin.
The damage continues to Coopers.@hipstergeddon pic.twitter.com/0De77mU74k
— Rod Swift (@rodcub) March 13, 2017
Adelaide’s longest-running gay and lesbian nightclub the Mars Bar has posted its involvement in the boycott, writing on Facebook that “after the recent advert with coppers [sic] brewery and the bible society Australia Mars bar will not be continuing to stock Coopers products”.
“We will be selling the remaining bottles we have but after that no Coopers product will be available at any of our bars,” the post read, adding the hashtag #BoycottCoopers.
But local AHA boss Ian Horne says he believes local venues were largely unaware of the furore, telling InDaily “it would be extraordinary if South Australian operators would want to ban a South Australian product that employs South Australians and keeps the money in SA”.
“I think you’d struggle to find anyone who’s aware of it, let alone acting on it,” he said.
While he distanced himself from defending the advertisement, he insisted he “wouldn’t support boycotting any SA product”.
“I’d hate to think SA venues would boycott any SA product that has an economic benefit for SA,” he said.
However other local operators have told InDaily there has been a backlash from customers, and management of more than one pub are considering their position.
Management at the Wheatsheaf Hotel – which does not sell Coopers on tap but does sell it by the bottle – told InDaily they were “considering” joining the boycott, noting that there had “definitely been some customer backlash”.
But Exeter Hotel owner Kevin Gregg told InDaily he didn’t “know anything about” the controversy.
“I don’t do social media [so] I’m not up with at all,” he said.
“But we’ve had no contact from anybody complaining about it, or threatening not to drink Coopers or anything like that.”
Nonetheless, the intense interstate backlash is a potentially bitter blow for the company, which had recently enjoyed one its biggest national coups, with exclusive pouring rights at this year’s Australian Open.
@hornery @coopersbrewery Yes, I stopped in to the Newtown Hotel said they were shutting it off. Also said they hadn't seen the video.
— Matt Busby Andrews (@SujetSydney) March 13, 2017
Coopers was moved to release a statement insisting: “We aren’t trying to push a religious message, we see these commemorative cans as a celebration of the Bible Society’s 200 years of charitable work in Australia.”
“We want you to know that Coopers did not give permission for our beer to feature in or ‘sponsor’ the Bible Society’s Keeping It Light video,” the statement read.
“Our family brewery is made up of individuals from a number of different backgrounds, all of whom hold differing views on politics and religion, which we think is reflective of the wider community.”
It signalled an about-face from an earlier statement defending the campaign as “a light-hearted but balanced debate about an important topic within Australia… a debate we need to have but in a good spirited and good natured way”.
New Coopers ad in light of recent developments. pic.twitter.com/OR5Qwwv8PL
— Mark Humphries (@markhumphries) March 13, 2017
The Bible Society has also gone into damage control, noting that it was “entirely responsible for the ‘Keeping it Light’ video”.
“It was not sponsored by Coopers. No money has changed hands between Bible Society and Coopers in regards to this campaign,” it said.
“The interest from the public in this campaign reinforces the message of the video – that it is important for Australians to have respectful conversations about serious issues – ‘keeping it light.’”
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