Update 2:24pm 4/06/2019. Brews News has learnt subsequently to the publication of this article, Nick Warming has resigned with immediate effect as chief executive officer of Southern Bay Brewing.
Geelong-based Southern Bay Brewing is facing major backlash after an offensive social media post was published yesterday.
The Melbourne area brewery posted a meme which included a message that has been described as a homphobic slur to its Facebook company page.
It was subsequently deleted, but not before it had attracted dozens of comments pointing out its homophobic overtones, especially during World Pride Month 2019 which runs until 30th June.
In response a spokesperson who identified themselves as a Director for Southern Bay apologised, saying it was a “one off”.
“The post should never have happened. I hope people take it for what it was a gross one off mistake. We are sorry for posting it.”
In subsequent responses to angry commenters, the spokesperson continued saying they were “very contrite” but urging people to “move forward”.
“My apology does not need to be taken, but it would be great to see people being more receptive to the concerns of others. I am truly sorry for what this post has done,” a later response from the company said.
Nick Warming, director at Southern Bay Brewing spoke to Brews News. He took responsibility for the post, saying that since a previous ABAC ruling in January, which came as a result of actions by an external company, he had taken over the company’s social media himself.
“I want to stress that this is not the view of any staff member at Southern Bay. I made the post myself and it was a gross error. I am truly sorry. I don’t want them to take responsibility for something that was my fault.
“One charge against me is that I did it for likes – this isn’t true. It’s something I regret and if I had my time again I certainly wouldn’t have done it.
“All I can stress is that it was a genuine mistake. I feel absolutely horrible about it and I don’t want to vilify any particular part of the community.
“I don’t want to use excuses and I want to own it and apologise. My only intention was to promote the brewery which I clearly haven’t done well.”
Warming said that if anyone wanted to discuss the issue directly, they should email [email protected]. He said that the company had suspended any social media activity and he would be discussing next steps with the board this afternoon.
The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) regulators and the Association for National Advertisers have informed Brews News that there has not yet been a complaint made to them about the post.
Southern Bay has fallen foul of social media conduct codes before. In January this year ABAC upheld a complaint against Southern Bay over a meme posted to Twitter.
At the time ABAC said that the meme, which stated “There’s nothing wrong with you that me drinking six beers can’t fix”, was promoting binge drinking.
Southern Bay subsequently doubled down on the meme following ABAC’s judgement, posting it again to Facebook and asking commenters what they thought about the ruling.
Warming told Brews News that the ABAC-infringing post and the subsequent re-post, which is still on the brewery’s Facebook page, were done by an external social media agency, but that he has managed Southern Bay’s social channels since that time.
Social media strategy
Mariella Mejia, director of digital and social media marketing company Made With Moxie, said businesses need to understand that impact that insensitive social media activity can have on a business.
“This was incredibly tone deaf. Not only was this post homophobic, it also shames people who do not want to drink full strength beer. There should be a place in the beer community for anyone, regardless of tastes.”
Southern Bay Brewing have been known for their meme-heavy social media strategy, but this is not necessarily the best way to develop meaningful relationships with customers, said Mariella.
“There’s a reason why memes have a place on social media. To a business, they’re like fast food – they’re cheap, they fill the channels and you don’t have to create anything yourself.
“But as a social media strategy, it’s not a good choice.
“When it comes to social media, smaller businesses tend to be focused on price instead of delivery, but you really do get what you pay for.
“The sad part is that Southern Bay Brewing has an incredible story and incredible equipment and a history that spans 100 years – they could be talking about anything from their region to their beer, but they’re not.”
In terms of the next steps that Southern Bay Brewing should take, Mariella said that they would benefit from a greater awareness of their community and some genuine heartfelt emotion.
“The first thing to do is to confront the issue, be empathetic and deliver a heartfelt message. ‘We apologise if we’ve caused offence’ isn’t apology.
“The director should step up and give their name, provide their email address and start the discussion, to indicate that they’re open to feedback.
“They should go back to everyone that commented on the post, reading everything and replying with empathy, not just providing a standard response.”
She said Southern Bay’s strategy towards social media appeared dated, and that the repercussions may be long-lasting.
“This is not Southern Bay’s first time at the rodeo. What that response showed was a lack of understanding of how to use [social media] tools and the power of these tools.
“I think it will have a long term impact. People don’t forget quickly, and Southern Bay will be, at least for a while, remembered for this rather than the beer they brew.”
The Independent Brewers Association has this afternoon responded to this latest controversy. The organisation highlighted its beer labelling guidelines as well as the importance of diversity and difference.
The IBA went on to say that while it has not yet been required to suspend or expel a brewery from its organisation, it has the discretion to take such actions to protect both its reputation and the integrity of the independent beer industry.
“Any expulsion of a member would also restrict them from using the independent seal,” the IBA said in a statement.
“Many of our members have worked hard to build goodwill in their local communities. There are many excellent examples in the marketplace of interesting, eye-catching and creative beer marketing.
“We, as an industry, have the opportunity and the responsibility to use these channels in a way that acknowledges and celebrates our diversity.”