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Part of the pitch to BrewDog
Part of the pitch to BrewDog

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BrewDog accused of stealing non-alcoholic beer idea from agency

Have you heard this one before? An agency pitches an idea to a client while it is under retainer, but the idea is rejected. After their relationship ends, the agency finds out that the same idea is used by its client, with no credit.

It happened to agency Manifest, which last year pitched an idea to brewery BrewDog to label an alcohol-free version of the latter's beer as "Punk AF". The idea was a play on words, to juxtapose "AF", which usually means "As F***", with "Alcohol Free".

BrewDog rejected the idea to "pursue another direction". But it came out with the same idea for the launch of its alcohol-free product this year.

Manifest pointed out publicly to BrewDog that the Punk AF concept was theirs when they saw a version of BrewDog's latest ads. They went public with the story on their blog on 10 May. The agency even published the deck they used to pitch to BrewDog.

But Manifest is also quick to point out the designs of BrewDog's Punk AF cans do not look anything like the graphics they proposed. They say what was taken was the central idea and approach that was inspired by the strategy and naming convention they had developed for BrewDog last year.

Alex Myers, CEO of Manifest, said: "At Manifest, like any creative business, ideas are our currency. They are the foundation of our commercial operation. But like others, we have had our ideas stolen or cribbed from without credit or payment during the pitch process. The last time that happened, I swore it would be the last time. When I saw the Punk AF launch yesterday, I felt that not speaking up would be hypocritical. Simple as that. I wasn’t out for money, or revenge. Just credit where credit is due."

BrewDog's founder James Watt responded on Twitter that Manifest did the work for BrewDog while under retainer, and the design of its new product was done with a different agency.

To which Myers replied that BrewDog had a brief for no alcohol beer in 2018, Manifest was not retained for any brand work, Manifest named its response to the brief, "Punk AF", and Watt had told Manifest that Brewdog was "going a different direction".

PR Week reported on intellectual property theft - a major issue in the industry.

"The sad truth is that this isn't new - everyone who works in PR will have a story of a brand taking their creative and either implementing it in-house or asking another agency to implement it," Hotwire’s creative consumer director Tom Rouse told PR Week.

He said the even sadder truth is there is not much the industry can do about it as the law leaves creative agencies with almost no protection against clients taking their ideas and using them.

Tin Man founder Mandy Sharp told PRWeek the intellectual property rights over creative ideas is a grey area and hard to prove in most cases.

"It’s particularly prevalent in the PR industry because agencies are forced to give away a lot of ideas during competitive pitch processes or, in the Manifest/Brewdog case, through ongoing creative ideation," she said.

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Mark Laudi

Mark Laudi

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