Pubs have taken Coopers beer off their taps and drinkers have vowed to boycott the beer after a political marketing stunt backfired on the South Australian brewer.
Coopers is a long-time donor to Bible Society Australia, as well as other religious and conservative groups. They are also one of the largest donors to the SA Liberal Party.
To celebrate 200 years Coopers put out a commemorative beer — complete with Bible quotes — and made a video “conversation” between two Liberal MPs in which they outlined their positions on marriage equality.
Called “Keeping it Light”, the video was filmed inside Parliament House, Canberra. It featured Tim Wilson (pro marriage equality) and Andrew Hastie (against), with the men agreeing to disagree in a “civil and respectful way” before agreeing that other people are doing the marriage equality debate wrong — all while drinking Coopers Light.
There was an immediate social media backlash when the video was released on March 10, with people objecting to Coopers sponsoring a religious organisation to make an explicitly political point.
Lifelong Coopers drinkers swore this was the last time a Pale Ale would pass their lips.
The boycott soon spread to pubs, with the Coopers taps being switched off in the Old Bar, Sircuit nightclub and Mollies Bar & Diner in Melbourne and the Hollywood Hotel, the Newtown Hotel and Hideaway Bar in Sydney.
The Union Hotel in Newtown posted on Facebook: “Due to the recent language coming out of Coopers Brewing, we will be taking their Pale Ale off tap after our current kegs are blown. At this point it seems their views on marriage equality are at odds with not only those of our staff, but our locals and the broader community of Newtown.
“The call to ‘Keep it Light’ is particularly upsetting, considering that it is absolutely NOT a light issue for the thousands who are affected by marriage inequality...
“For now, we’ll be donating a dollar from each schooner sale of these last pale kegs to Beyond Blue.”
The general manager of Sircuit Bar and Mollies Bar & Diner filmed himself throwing out their remaining bottles of Coopers. “Sircuit and Mollies, like beer companies, have choices. I have made mine,” he said.
Coopers has been frantically backpedalling since the video was released. First, it issued a statement saying: “The video was a light hearted but balanced debate about an important topic within Australia. As a mature community it's a debate we need to have but in a good spirited and good natured way.”
This was followed on March 13 by another “clarification” in which it claimed it just made the beer and what the Bible Society did with it was nothing to do with them.
“We want you to know that Coopers did not give permission for our Premium Light beer to feature in, or ‘sponsor’ the Bible Society’s ‘Keeping it Light’ video featuring Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson,” it said.
“We respect the beliefs of our community and do not wish to try and change them.”
Coopers released a further video apology late on March 13 in which they said they “never intended to make light of such an important issue” and reiterated that they had nothing to do with the video. They then state that Coopers “supports marriage equality”, that they have cancelled the special Bible Society commemorative beer and that they plan to join Marriage Equality Australia.
Whether this stops the boycott remains to be seen. Many, however, will see through the claim the video was part of a respectful debate and see it for what it was: a publicity stunt for the Bible Society and an ad for Coopers featuring two ambitious Liberal politicians.
More than three-quarters of Australians support equal marriage. There is no reason for the government — of which these two MPs are members — not to legislate for equal marriage right now.
Recent history has shown that beer boycotts work — as Carlton & United Breweries discovered when it was forced, after a months-long union campaign, to back down after it sacked 55 workers and offered to rehire them on reduced pay and conditions.
Coopers’ grovelling video apology and newfound support for marriage equality could be seen as the action of a company fearful of the power of consumer boycott to affect their market share and profits.