A Brewdog promotion which said customers could win “solid gold” beer cans was misleading, the advertising watchdog has found.
The Scottish brewer offered shoppers the chance to find a gold can hidden in cases sold from its online store.
But some winners complained to the Advertising Standards Authority after they discovered the cans were not solid gold, but were gold-plated instead.
The ASA upheld the complaints and said three adverts were misleading.
In response to the ASA’s ruling, James Watt, co-founder and chief executive at Brewdog, said: “We hold our hands up, we got the first gold can campaign wrong.”
The ruling comes amid heavy criticism of Brewdog in recent months, with a letter from ex-workers stating former staff had “suffered mental illness” as a result of working for the craft beer brewer.
It made a number of allegations, including that Brewdog fostered a culture where staff were afraid to speak out about concerns.
The ASA said it received 25 complaints in relation to three social media adverts stating its can prize was made from “solid gold”.
In its ruling, the watchdog said it “understood the prize consisted of 24 carat gold-plated replica cans”, but added “because the ads stated that the prize included a solid gold can when that was not the case, we concluded the ads were misleading”.
The ASA said it had told Brewdog not to state or imply that consumers would receive a solid gold can when it was not the case.
One of the competition winners, Mark Craig, still contests the value of the gold-plated can that he won and believes it is “not worth anything”.
Mr Craig, from Lisburn, Northern Ireland, told the BBC: “They are meant to be there for the little guy and this is two fingers to their customers who are the ones who were taken by this.”
He criticised the company’s apology, which he said appeared to be encouraging people to buy more beer in a “new competition run correctly this time”.
Brewdog said its social media posts which contained the words “solid gold” did so in error and repeated that mistakes were a result of miscommunication between its marketing and social media teams.
As well as complaints over the prize’s authenticity, some winners questioned how much the can was worth. Brewdog claimed it was valued at £15,000.
Mr Watt said the company stood by its valuation which it previously said was based on several factors, including the manufacturing price, metal and quality of the product.
The ASA said Brewdog told investigators that a single 330ml can, made with the equivalent 330ml of pure gold, would have a gold value of about $500,000 (£363,000).
The ASA said it considered a general audience “was unlikely to be aware of the price of gold, how that would translate into the price of a gold can, and whether that was inconsistent with the valuation as stated in the ad”.
‘Mismatch of expectations’
The brewer has been heavily criticised in recent months with allegations being made about its culture, which has led to an independent review of the organisation.
So far, more than 100 interviews with former staff have “either taken place or are scheduled for the coming weeks” as part of the review, according the firm’s website.
Mr Watt has previously apologised to former staff and said their complaints would help make him a better chief executive.
However, in a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph, he said the brewer “should have been clearer about the high-performance culture” and suggested there was a “mismatch of expectations” among certain employees.
The BBC previously reported that a note from Mr Watt to staff said it was “fair to say that this type of fast-paced and intense environment is definitely not for everyone, but many of our fantastic long-term team members have thrived in our culture”.
As well as the ruling on Brewdog, the ASA also upheld a complaint against an advert by plant-drink maker Alpro on the side of a bus.
The complainant believed commercial almond farming caused environmental damage and challenged whether the product was “good for the planet” as stated.
The ASA said there was “no qualification” to the claim and “little context provided” in the ad to interpret it.
It added that Alpro revealed the almonds used in its almond drink were cultivated in a sustainable way and not sourced from regions with environmentally damaging processes.