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persuasion notebook

The Budweiser blimp.

Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.

Is Budweiser trying to have its medovik and eat it too?

That's the message its main rival is trying to get across. On Thursday, Molson Coors Brewing Co., the company that makes Molson Canadian and is a sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), will run a newspaper ad showing the contrasting messages of Budweiser's advertising around the Olympic Games in Russia.

The ad, which runs in The Globe and Mail on Thursday, is highlighting the fact that Budweiser is a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee, while Labatt Breweries of Canada is running a Budweiser campaign in this country cheering on Team Canada. It asks: "Hey Bud, which side are you on?"

The COC itself has said it is considering legal action over Labatt's campaign, which launched during the Super Bowl in Canada and is running through the Games. The campaign shows a 21-metre Budweiser blimp designed to look like a hockey goal light, which began making flights over Canadian cities on the same day that the opening ceremony was held in Sochi.

As it happens, Labatt launched another instalment of that campaign on Wednesday, which shows its blimp flying over the Russian Embassy in Ottawa.

All of the videos and social media posts that Budweiser has released during the campaign have included a disclaimer saying that the company is not associated with the Olympics or the Canadian Olympic Team.

But for sponsors such as Molson, and for the COC, this type of marketing is a problem: Anything that takes advantage of the excitement around the Olympics is seen by them as eroding the value of the partnerships that sponsors pay millions for. The COC says it depends on those sponsorship dollars to support athletes. If it is just as easy to release ads suggesting an Olympic connection, the reasoning goes, it will be harder to ask companies to invest.

Molson, for its part, is trying to take a slightly more lighthearted approach with its ad to point out the competition's contrasting messages on both sides of the border.

"It's meant to be just a little irreverent observation about the Games," said Molson spokesman Forest Kenney.

The two companies have a long history of taking shots at each other in their ads. In the 1990s, when Labatt's B.C.-based Kokanee beer in Central Canada was revealed to contain Ontario tap water, Molson mocked its "Glacier fresh taste" campaign with ads asking whether the brand was "B.C. or B.S." A few years ago they sparred over sponsorship of the National Hockey League; Molson won, but Labatt has worked hard since then to suggest it is the real beer of hockey fans.

During the Super Bowl in 2012, Labatt released a feel-good Budweiser ad that showed a recreational league hockey game crashed by hundreds of rabid fans, play-by-play announcers, mascots, and all the trappings of a big-league game. Last year's Super Bowl saw the company unveil a line of red goal lights, which could be programmed to go off when the owner's favourite NHL team scored. The new blimp is made to look like one of those lights, and the company has announced they can be programmed to sync with Team Canada's hockey goals at the Olympics as well.

Molson has been fighting to get noticed as well, however. It has brought back the beer fridge it invented last year, which only opens if a Canadian passport is placed in its scanner. Molson has sent the fridge to Russia; its post on Twitter showing the fridge has been shared roughly 2,000 times and has landed the brand global media coverage.

Now its Olympic campaign, touting a message of Canadian pride, will be battling Labatt's for recognition among hockey-mad fans here at home.