Corey Smale sent the tweet from bed.
PBR suggests another option pic.twitter.com/yevwf7J9TA
— #AllThingsConsidered ☮️🧡🍁💙 she/her (@leighpowley) January 3, 2022
It was outrageous, sure. But for Smale, it was a logical progression of the work he’d been doing with the blue-collar beer brand for more than two years.
“You can look at the year before that — PBR was on fire,” Smale told PR Daily during a recent interview. “I mean, we were lighting up Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors, the biggest brands in beer. In terms of social and digital, we owned that space.”
A look back at posts from the year before the booty-eating tweet reveals an account that was hardly safe by most brand standards. Under Smale’s control, the account cursed out competitors. Calling customers “rats” was a running joke.
None of those tweets crossed the line, as far as the brand was concerned; they’re still on the internet to this day. They were deliberately provocative.
“It’s tricky when these brands want to push hard,” Smale said. “And they put people in positions like myself with PBR to do that. And there’s really no line as to how far is too far.”
While there was a strategy behind the posts, much of it was whatever thought crossed Smale’s brain. There was no approval process — and that’s why it worked.
“You see these brands where it’s like, you’re two weeks late. Now it feels like two years later with a lot of this stuff,” Smale said. “You’ve got to be so fast. And so we were able to just make moves instantaneously because there wasn’t there wasn’t really an approval check.”
That worked well for Smale — until it didn’t.
Sending the infamous tweet just wasn’t that deep, Smale said. He thought it was funny, and that was good enough. He texted one coworker before he sent it, but neither sent up red flags.
“We were promoting ‘Wet January.’ We’re promoting like, please keep consuming our product during January while other brands are, quote unquote, more responsible during that time or whatever. So I knew it was loud or wild, but it didn’t feel like, ‘oh my God.’”
It turned out to be “oh my God,” though Smale didn’t realize that at first.
The tweet received intense media attention and critiques from Twitter users, some of whom enjoyed it, whole detractors bashed it for shock value and for making light of the serious sobriety message behind dry January. It was deleted. Then Smale’s access to the company’s social accounts was removed while they investigated.
But it wasn’t until the company apologized — calling him a “rogue employee with poor judgment” — that he realized he was going to get fired.
What came after
For months after, Smale said, people would tweet at the PBR account calling for him to be re-hired. But that wasn’t to be. All the press around the tweet did bring Smale a lot of attention — and job offers. But many were just stunts or PR grabs themselves, Smale said.
“There (were) definitely some offers and some money that could have gone down that would have been short-term money, and I think also would have been sort of regressive versus the energy I was really trying to put out at that time,” he said.
Still, Smale has reached the conclusion that overall, the tweet wasn’t a bad career move for him. And he’s certainly been busy since he was fired.
“And I was like, ‘yeah,’ and they’re like, ‘oh, OK, well, a bunch of our clients called and thought it was hilarious. And were telling us good job, because they thought that we did it.’ I was like, ‘oh, that’s sick,’” Smale recalled in his laid-back way. So Party Land hired him, working with clients like Twitch and Liquid Death.
But now Smale is returning to his beer marketing roots. Earlier this month, he took on the role of VP of Marketing at Garage Beer.
“It’s a small-batch, light beer, beer-flavored beer for dads, for people that just like beer that tastes like beer,” Smale said. And he certainly falls into that category, becoming a first-time dad just a few months ago.
But while he may be the target demographic, he no longer defines the brand solely with his own interests, as he might have once done.
“I am a dad,” he said. “I do have a mustache now. But the brand isn’t my whole identity. And I think that’s cool. I honestly sort of appreciate there’s a space there.”
But you can still see Smale’s fingerprints all over the brand.
We make hot dogs now pic.twitter.com/u01eNng5ho
— Garage Beer (@drinkgaragebeer) August 31, 2023
“People seem to be talking about it,” Smale mused. “I feel like that’s always the job, right?”
The tweet that got him fired certainly got people talking. He doesn’t really regret it, but he does think more about the balance of outrageousness and marketing now.
“There’s been 10, 20, 30 moments like that for other brands since then, and I’m empathetic towards everyone at this point,” Smale reflected. “They’re very challenging jobs. We need to make noise in this space. You need to do anything you can to be edgy, creative, on it all the time. And then it’s like, the moment that’s too far, it’s like the whole strategy was wrong. I’m not sure.”