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When Molson Coors Brewing Co. planted a beer fridge in a handful of European locales that could only be opened by scanning a Canadian passport, the marketing team thought it would be a one-off – a stunt that hopefully would attract some attention and reinforce the Molson Canadian brand's patriotic tone.

But the response was so significant, the company soon rejigged its marketing plans for the Sochi Olympics, and other ad campaigns, to incorporate the fridge. It has helped to turn around declines in market share for the beer. On Thursday night, it won the Grand Prix at the CASSIES, a Canadian awards show that celebrates business effectiveness in advertising. (It was also awarded Gold in the Packaged Goods category.)

Molson and its ad agency, Rethink, faced larger challenges than just beer competitors. Beer consumption is declining, and that drop is driven by the "premium" segment in which Molson Canadian competes. The company identifies three segments in beer: "above premium," which grew 2.9 per cent by volume in Canada from 2008 to 2013; "value," or more price-sensitive products, which kept volumes relatively flat in that five-year period; and "premium," which saw volume fall 2.7 per cent.

The trend is particularly acute among younger drinkers, who have been gravitating to a wider variety of drinks such as cider, bourbon, wine, and craft beers.

The desire to reach younger consumers drove Molson – as it has many other marketers – to spend more on digital videos with stories that would convince people to share them with friends on social media.

"Communication is changing at a such a fast pace," said Dave Bigioni, vice-president of marketing at Molson Coors Canada. "The 30-second commercial was much more of a tell; now it's about how a brand behaves. … Our lens is a little wider."

That social media dissemination happened with the first video of the fridge's European excursion, launched for Canada Day in 2013. It has received more than six million views, an estimated $50-million in free media – through press coverage – in Canada (and much more abroad).

"The phones started ringing," Mr. Bigioni said.

"We had expats living in Belgium who had a festival where they were manning a Canadian booth, and wanted to know if the fridge could get there. The consulate in L.A. called. We had bankers in France who wanted it at a meeting … We said, 'We're on to something bigger than a stunt.'"

So the marketing team scrapped its original plans for the Olympics in Russia (Molson is a Canadian Olympic Committee sponsor) and instead launched a social media campaign calling for people to identify Canadian beer lovers living abroad who had trouble seeing hockey games.

The resulting video showed a trek to the Gili Islands in Indonesia, to deliver a beer fridge and a satellite hookup to a man far from home. The fridge also had a prominent place at Canada House in Sochi. Molson gave away mini fridges signed by Olympic athletes through contests. Another ad, leading up to Canada Day 2014, featured fridge redux: This time, people had to sing the anthem to unlock the door.

Molson saw a clear change in sales trends over the first year of the campaign, which started in June, 2013.

After five straight years of eroding market share, the original goal was simply to maintain its 6.4 per cent share of the beer category in Canada. In fact, its share grew, by 0.1 per cent – not as small a number as it seems, in a $9.1-billion industry. That's a growth of 26,389 hectolitres, or the equivalent of 7.6 million bottles. In the "premium" segment, Molson's share grew 0.6 per cent.

All of this is worth roughly $6-million, Molson estimates, and did not involve any increases to the company's marketing budget.

The company has made some moves to appeal to changing consumer tastes, as well. Last year, it launched Molson Canadian Cider, and it has changed the look of its glassware in bars to create a higher-quality image. The challenge, Mr. Bigioni said, is remaining relevant without shedding the brand's identity entirely, or trying to pretend it is something other than what it is.

"You need to be clear about who you are," he said.

"There's a fine balance. The drinker base is evolving. … We focus on connecting with today's drinker, and making Canadian a brand that people look at as their brand, not their father's brand."


The top-selling beer brands in Canada, as of 2013:

1) Budweiser (Labatt Breweries of Canada)

2) Coors Light (Molson Coors Brewing Co.)

3) Labatt (Labatt Breweries of Canada)

4) Molson Canadian (Molson Coors Brewing Co.)

5) Bud Light (Labatt Breweries of Canada)

6) Carling (Molson Coors Brewing Co.)

7) Corona Extra (Labatt Breweries of Canada)

8) Lucky Lager (Labatt Breweries of Canada)

9) Heineken (Molson Coors Brewing Co.)

10) Lakeport (Labatt Breweries of Canada)

Source: Euromonitor International


The CASSIES, an awards show that celebrates business effectiveness in advertising, was held Thursday evening in Toronto. Here are the top winners:

Molson Coors

Campaign: Molson Canadian beer fridge

Awards: Grand Prix, Gold -- Packaged Goods

Agency: Rethink

General Mills Canada

Award: Client of the year (first year awarded)

Agency: Cossette

WestJet Airlines Ltd.

Campaign: WestJet Christmas Miracle

Award: Gold -- Events, Seasonal and Short-Term

Agency: WestJet internal team

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Campaign: Skip Starbucks Saturday

Award: Gold -- Events, Seasonal and Short-Term

Agency: Grey Canada

Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd.

Campaign: Canadian Tire Ice Truck

Award: Gold -- Events, Seasonal and Short-Term

Agency: Taxi Canada Ltd.

IKEA Canada

Campaign: IKEA House Rules

Award: Gold -- Events, Seasonal and Short-Term

Agency: Leo Burnett Toronto

Unilever Canada

Campaign: Hellmann's mayonnaise Real Food Movement

Award: Gold -- Long Term

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather

Ubisoft Entertainment

Campaign: Watch Dogs Live

Awards: Gold -- Off to a Good Start and Gold, awarded to campaigns that have been running for 6 to 12 months -- Best Matching of Message to Medium

Agency: Publicis Montreal

American Express Canada

Campaign: Cloud 10 -- Revitalizing the airport as an acquisition channel

Awards: Gold -- Off to a Good Start and Gold -- Best Matching of Message to Medium

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather

Procter & Gamble

Campaign: Mr. Clean -- Legendary Campaign

Awards: Gold -- Packaged Goods and Gold -- Global (Canadian work on the global stage)

Agency: Leo Burnett Toronto

Boston Pizza International

Campaign: Here to Make You Happy

Award: Gold -- Sustained success

Agency: Taxi Canada Ltd.