For a brand built on patriotic identity, few events are as promising an opportunity for advertising as the Olympic Games. In its bid to take up the spotlight in the month leading up to Sochi, Molson Coors Brewing Co. is going to great lengths.
On Boxing Day, it will air the longest TV commercial it has yet done, purchasing nearly three minutes of airtime during Team Canada's first game at the world junior hockey championship.
The ad, which will be released online on Thursday, does not involve athletic tributes – even though Molson is a sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee. Instead, it centres on a trek to a remote part of Indonesia.
"Only a hockey-obsessed brand would go to the ends of the Earth," said Aaron Starkman, creative director at Molson's ad agency, Rethink. "During the Olympics, you'll see a lot of flag-waving from brands. We're trying to do something different to stand out."
Molson reached out to roughly 3,000 employees asking if they knew of Canadians living abroad, who are rabid hockey fans but have a hard time seeing games. Stories poured in from the Philippines, Liberia, Cambodia, and even an oil rig in the Indian Ocean.
Molson settled on a man from the Ottawa area named Morgan, living on one of the tiny Gili Islands in Indonesia, where he is a property developer. The company sent his two best friends to surprise him with a satellite hookup to watch Team Canada games, and a fridge full of beer. The short film they made about the journey will run on TV in full twice, and a 30-second version pointing people to the full video online will run through the new year.
The ad is interesting because it takes a longer video format that has become more popular with advertisers online, and translates it to television. Powerful storytelling is now crucial for ads to have an impact, said Molson's vice-president of marketing, Dave Bigioni. "It starts with consumer engagement – we're in a world where consumers choose how to spend their time."
The ad is a follow-up on the success of Molson's summer campaign, in which it constructed a beer fridge that would open only with the scan of a Canadian passport. Molson planted the fridge in random European locations and filmed the results.
Until this month, when WestJet Airlines Ltd. attracted worldwide attention with a sentimental Christmas video, the beer fridge was 2013's most viral ad in Canada, according to Google Inc., which owns YouTube. It now has more than two million views on the site. The fridge was so popular that Molson arranged for it to appear in Trafalgar Square in London on Canada Day, and at various events throughout the summer.
Its popularity has had an impact on Molson's bottom line.
Meanwhile, in the third quarter, while the product category over all was down about 1 per cent, the company has seen the Molson Canadian beer brand gain market share. (The company would not disclose more detail on the change in market share; in the beer category, any gained ground is generally hard won so that even a modest percentage increase is a sign of relative success.)
Now, the storytelling style that has picked up speed online is rubbing off on Molson's TV campaign. For this ad, the agency sent the friends and a red fridge similar to the one in its summer campaign on a three-day journey. They travelled by plane, truck, boat and even horse-drawn cart to surprise Morgan on his doorstep; a reunion complete with hearty bro hugs and even a few tears.
The fridge was stocked with smaller, 625-millilitre versions of the "victory bottle" Molson introduced during the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. The larger version of the bottle was present for the on-ice celebration by Canada's women's hockey team after winning gold, and Molson has brought it out since then for special occasions such as the Grey Cup and Juno awards; this is the first time the company is making them available for sale.
The new ad introduces the smaller victory bottles, but moreover it is meant to stir national pride linked to the brand in preparation for the Winter Games. A sequel to the spot (details are still a secret) will air closer to the Games.
"We want it to feel weird, or even wrong, to have another brand of beer in your hand during the Olympics," Mr. Starkman said.
Travelling fridges will soon be on their way to Sochi, Russia, where Molson will use them for further marketing: Back home, Molson will host contests to win a fridge signed by Team Canada athletes. It's part of a plan to keep Canadians engaged during a Winter Games that will not be as easy for advertisers as Vancouver.
"Sochi is going to be a very different experience for Canadians," Mr. Bigioni said. "It's thousands of kilometres away in different time zones. Our challenge is to make people feel connected."