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Good For What Ales Ya': Coopers Controversy Recap

RAD LIFE

Good For What Ales Ya': Coopers Controversy Recap

Paul Maland

It's been a little over a week since the sediment settled and the collective angst from consumers of Adelaide's own Coopers beer has had time to sit and roll across the bar-top.

For those of you who missed it, or for those of you looking for a summary of what went down, we've put together the facts to help you decide if Coopers still has a spot in your Esky moving forward. 

What happened?

  • Coopers partnered up with the Bible Society to release a commemorative light-beer celebrating 200 years of the society, complete with bible quotes on the packaging.
     
  • The Bible Society then produced a video featuring two Liberal MPs (one gay, one straight) discussing same-sex marriage while drinking Coopers, with particular emphasis in the video on showing the Coopers beers and their logos.
     
  • Following a huge backlash to Coopers involving themselves with the Liberal Party and Bible Society, including numerous bars removing Coopers products from their taps, Coopers released two rushed statements;
     
  • Coopers' statements mentioned that they did not approve of their involvement in the video produced by the Bible Society (despite releasing a Bible Society commemorative beer), further stating: 
Coopers isn’t trying to push religious messages or change your beliefs by celebrating 200 years of charitable work undertaken by the Bible Society, in fact, over the years we have produced a number of different celebratory cans to recognise the historical achievements of a vast array of different organisations.
— Coopers

Further digging following the public backlash unveiled records of Coopers heavily preferencing donating to the Liberal Party over other parties since the early 2000s.

Following continued backlash, in particular to the sub-par response from Coopers, last Monday a video was released featuring Managing Director Tim Cooper and Melanie Cooper, Director of Finance and Corporate Affairs. 

The video stated that Coopers supports diversity and equality, and that they never intended to alienate, offend or exclude any portion of their customers or supporters. 

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From the start:

The whole kerfuffle began following a joint news conference held by Coopers in conjunction with the Bible Society on March 9, featuring Tim Cooper, Coopers' managing director, and Greg Clarke, chief executive of the society.

The press conference was to announce a limited edition, co-branded run of 10,000 cartons of light-beer, complete with various biblical verses printed on the cartons, to celebrate the Bible Society's 200th Birthday.

The Bible Society also paired up with Coopers brewery to create a social media strategy aimed at reaching "more Australians with God's word". The Bible Society then started a video series called Keeping it Light, where they "host some light conversations on the heaviest topics". 

The first instalment, and the cause of the media and consumer backlash, is a video where two Liberal Party MPs discuss the issue of same-sex marriage.

The video features Victorian MP Tim Wilson, who publicly identifies as homosexual, and straight, conservative Christian MP Andrew Hastie in the six minute video, filmed in a cafe in Parliament House.

What was in the video? 

The content of the discussion in the video itself is relatively harmless, and does nothing to tie Coopers as a brand to supporting anti-LGBTQI rhetoric (if you ignore the fact the video was produced by a Christian organisation). 

In the video, Tim Wilson puts forward his argument for legalising same-sex marriage, namely to provide homosexual couples equality under the law. Andrew Hastie provides his points against it, that marriage is legally defined as an institution between a man and a woman, and the video concludes — though not without several lingering shots of Coopers beer bottles, with particular emphasis on the logo.

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So, what's the problem with the video? 

As difficult as it is to admit, the intentions of the video content itself, when you remove the religious and political associations, were good natured. Having a non-antagonistic discussion about marriage equality is a good, productive way to educate the public on either side's views, and helps to progress Australian policy and legislation.  

The issue with the video is that these political and religious affiliations are integral to the video. A discussion on marriage equality had by two members of The Liberal Party, in conjunction with The Bible Society — a conservative Christian organisation, and obvious opponents to same-sex marriage — is a significant trivialisation of an issue that has a deep and personal impact on a large sector of the Australian community. 

A beer brand, whose main demographic is 18-35 year-olds (largely in support of marriage equality), has no place on either side of the debate without undermining the legitimacy of their involvement, due to obvious commercial connotations. This is particularly true given that the video was put together by a religious organisation Coopers had commercially partnered with, and featured only MPs of the Liberal Party, of which Coopers have made significant donations to.

Coopers, prior to and during the video campaign, had never made any statement in favour or opposing same-sex marriage. Their association with the Liberal Party and Bible Society implied potential opposition, despite it never being explicitly stated, which lead to the need for a response and clarification on their stance.

Had coopers never aligned themselves with both a religious organisation and political party, which leads to obvious polarisation among their consumer-base, they never would've had to state their opinion in the first place. 

Where to from here? 

Coopers have since completely cancelled their line of commemorative Bible Society light-beers, making a public statement in support of diversity and equality.

It does seem that although Coopers were actively supporting both the Liberal Party and Bible Society commercially, their formal involvement against marriage equality was passive at best.

The initial response from Coopers in their two rushed statements will likely be used in public relations classes in Australian universities in what not to do for years to come, but the brand will recover, and still maintains significant brand and venue partnerships.

Whether or not this was an innocent and well-intended mistake by Coopers, or a conscious alienation of their audience for commercial gain, remains up to you as consumers. 



Body images via news.com.au, pedestrian.tv; header image via alluremedia.com.au