Why Coopers’ marriage debate video was a bad move

OPINION

The Gay and Lesbian community are being compared to Nazis, religious organisations are up in arms, and the widespread negative responses to the Coopers debacle is being depicted as intolerance, labeled as ‘shutting down of free speech’ and portrayed as Orwellian manipulation.

Meanwhile other less reactionary voices are asking why the video of the Bible Society’s debate over marriage equality and it’s association with Brewer Coopers provoked such extreme reactions?

The reason is pretty clear once you shut out the shouting and think about it.

Brewer Coopers were sent into a flurry this week when the public showed their displeasure with the company’s association with a video discussion¬†on marriage equality.

The company who declares ‘Nothing Tastes Better’ in their advertisements, discovered that nothing leaves a bad taste in the mouths of consumers, than a debate over a topic that the overwhelming majority of Australians already have a clear opinion on.

The brewer signed up to celebrate the 200th anniversary of The Bible Society, by creating a commemorative package for their light beer which came with biblical quotes on the cartons.

The Bible Society in turn made a video called ‘Keeping it Light’ where two federal Liberal MPs had a lighthearted discussion about marriage equality, while toasting the Bible Society with a couple of bottles of Coopers lite.

Andrew Hastie repeated his view that marriage is just between a man and a woman, while Tim Wilson argued the case for allowing gay couples to wed.

The response from the public and venues was pretty clear.

Punters vowed to stop drinking the beer, venues poured kegs down the drain, and orders were cancelled.

The Brewer went into damage control first saying they supported all sides of the discussion, then distancing themselves from The Bible Society, and finally issuing an awkward video were they pledged their support for marriage equality and apologised for their bad judgement.

Coopers has marketed themselves as a brand appealing to hipsters and scenesters, aligning themselves with independent radio stations, cool music festivals and a cosmopolitan young audience.

I’ve worked at organisations who have been sponsored by Coopers, they encourage you to make sure lots of their products are featured in photographs from events you put on. You’re encouraged to make sure if someone’s holding a bottle of Coopers in a shot, the label is clearly visible and facing outwards. Coopers wants to be seen as the beer of choice for a certain audience.

It’s hardly surprising that this same audience saw a brand mismatch when the Bible Society video appeared.

The overwhelming majority of Australian’s support marriage equality, that huge support is at it’s highest levels among younger voters and people who live in inner city areas. Did Coopers forget who buys their beer?

Secondly, the video featured two MPs from the Liberal party. While Tim Wilson does support marriage equality, he’s also a member of the party that has, in many people’s views, failed to progress the issue despite the overwhelming public support.

While Wilson supports marriage equality, he has also been quick to distance himself from calls for a free vote following the failure of the government’s plebiscite proposal. Wilson is a supporter of change, but all in good time.

The suggestion that we need to be having further debate on the issue of marriage equality, or just patiently wait for the government to act, is one that doesn’t wash with Cooper’s audience. They’ve seen the debate argued many times, they’ve already made up their mind. They want action.

Thirdly, the proposition that we need to treat this issue through a ‘keeping it light’ conversation doesn’t wash either.

Just as there has been a rejection of marriage being a topic for game shows and reality TV, and people do not believe their relationships should be the subject of national wide opinion poll, nor do they think discussions about the validity of their relationships and families be fodder for a beer promotion.

What the Coopers debacle does illustrate is people want a free vote in parliament by the people they elected. Andrew Hastie can stand up and talk about his view, Tim Wilson can speak too, and then a vote can be held.

Opening the beers is for the celebration that follows.

Graeme Watson

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