Would you pay to place an ad in your own home?
Unlikely as it seems, tens of thousands of Canadians have done just that since Labatt Breweries of Canada began selling the Budweiser Red Light three years ago.
The branded merchandise, which looks like a hockey goal light, was first advertised during the Super Bowl in Canada in 2013. It is marketed to die-hard hockey fans who can program in their favourite team: a wireless Internet connection then detects when that team scores a goal, causing the device to light up.
Since then, consumers have spent millions on the lights, and Labatt has doubled down on the marketing strategy – creating a zeppelin in the shape of the red light to cheer on Team Canada during the Sochi Olympics; strings of Christmas lights in the shape of the goal lights; and pitchers and glasses for bars with red lights inside.
"We want to create bonds with consumers over the long term. Now we have a branded product that connects us to them every time the team scores," said Andrew Oosterhuis, Labatt's director of marketing for Budweiser. "Now we have a branded product that connects us to them every time the team scores."
This weekend, Labatt has once again paid for airtime during the big game in Canada, running a different ad for this market than U.S. audiences will see. The ad shows a truck on a snowy expanse towing a 20-foot version of the red light, supposedly toward the North Pole.
(Budweiser will also run a made-in-the-U.S. ad in Canada, with Helen Mirren delivering an anti-drunk-driving message.)
The company really has built the big light, and will use it in a full-year marketing campaign. First, it will go on a tour across Canada starting with the World Pond Hockey Championship in Plaster Rock, N.B., next month, and heading west. Canadian hockey fans will be given an opportunity to etch their name into the light – roughly 10,000 will fit on it in total, the company estimates. Then in August, it will go to the North Pole. Mr. Oosterhuis would not give details on how it would be shipped there, or where exactly it will stand. The idea is to symbolically "light up the world" during the World Cup of Hockey, any time Canada scores, he said.
Are there logistical issues with planting a Canadian marketing flag on land that is technically not owned by any country? "It's international waters," is all Mr. Oosterhuis would say.
There is good reason the campaign has lasted as long as it has, though: Budweiser says it has increased its market share since it launched.
"We've grown our leadership position. That's the proof in the pudding for us," he said. "If you own a red light, you're even closer to the brand."
By the numbers
80,000-plus: people worldwide who have purchased the brand's red lights, 50,000 of them in Canada
$200: rough cost, including shipping, per light (though some were given away as prizes)
$7.5-million: total revenue from purchases of the lights
600: approximate number of bars with Budweiser's red-lit pitchers and pint glasses
$30: rough cost for an 8-foot strip of Budweiser Red Light Christmas lights
2,000: rough number of Christmas light strips sold