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Tonia Hammer, Molson Coors social media manager, demonstrates how to open the Molson Canadian beer fridge with a Canadian passport at the Canada Olympic House in Sochi.NEIL DAVIDSON/The Canadian Press

Bringing three travellers from Papua New Guinea to Newfoundland and telling them to find a refrigerator 7,000 kilometres away in B.C. sounds like a spiteful prank – not a way to show how friendly Canadians are.

But for Molson Coors Canada, which orchestrated the cross-country trip, it was an attempt to showcase a sense of national identity for its Canada Day ad campaign. It was also an attempt to continue drawing on a marketing symbol that has proven effective for the brand.

The Molson Canadian beer fridge first appeared in 2013 when Molson and its ad agency Rethink built two fridges that could only be opened with a Canadian passport and left them in random locations in Europe – an ad campaign that played on Canada's international reputation as a nation of partiers. The campaign was so popular that the fridge became central to Molson's marketing efforts during the Olympics in Sochi and in subsequent Canada Day campaigns.

The fridge has proven a powerful branding symbol: The year it was introduced, Molson's overall market share jumped, adding an estimated $6-million to the bottom line without any increases to the company's marketing budget. That's in a market where, over all, beer consumption is waning. While its share has gone up and down in subsequent years, the brand sees a bump around Canada Day. Last year, its share increased to 6.3 per cent in July from 5.9 per cent the month before.

That's why the company keeps recycling the fridge concept, hoping to keep boosting its flagship brand during tough times for the beer industry.

For this campaign, it enlisted the help of a casting agent to find three travellers from a far-flung location. Interviews were done by Skype, and the travellers – who are not actors, according to the ad agency – were then sent on stops across the country, including Montreal, Toronto, Drumheller, Alta., Calgary, Vancouver, and Tofino, B.C.

In each place, they were given challenges to spur them to explore and meet locals.

In recent years, many marketers have noted that Canadian consumers are growing more comfortable expressing national pride – where they may have been more reserved about their patriotism before. Advertisers including Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. and Molson have responded with more nationalist pitches.

The challenge for Molson will be to keep the message fresh: The fridge is already in its fourth year, and with alcohol consumption habits in flux, the big brewers are facing a bigger fight to convince people to keep stocking their own fridges with the sudsy stuff.

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