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A stunt marketing campaign for Shock Top beer, a sunglasses-wearing citrus wedge with hair made of wheat has been surprising bar-goers


Generally, if your beer is talking to you, it's time to call it a night.

Until recently, that is. A stunt marketing campaign for Shock Top beer has brought its logo to life. The sunglasses-wearing citrus wedge with hair made of wheat has been chatting up beer lovers in Montreal and Toronto.

The brand, owned by Labatt Breweries of Canada, has struggled with sales growth and low consumer awareness since it launched here in 2011. To change that, it placed a six-pack in a Montreal dépanneur and a beer tap at a west-end Toronto bar, both rigged up to crack wise at unsuspecting patrons – and posted videos of the results. Last week, it installed a large motion-sensored talking wedgehead on a billboard at The Beer Store at College and Bathurst Streets in Toronto; video pending.

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"Doing disruptive advertising, we've started to see the potential and the success you get by doing things differently," said Mike Bascom, brand director for Shock Top at Labatt. "…It's a different way for our beers to talk to consumers across the country."

So how did they do it? One of Labatt's ad agencies, Anomaly, took care of the concept and the writing. A Toronto special effects agency, Gaslight Studio Inc., built the animatronics to make it work.

The six-pack was wireless, so people could pull it off the shelf with no trouble. (Those who actually walked out with the talking beer, however, were politely asked to switch it out with a regular case.) Hidden cameras were placed around each of the venues to capture the action, and to allow a team huddled outside in a cube van to see what was going on.

In the van, the creative team, the ad director, and the voice actor monitored the scene. The actor responded in real time through a microphone connected to a Bluetooth speaker embedded in the box (and the tap, in the case of the bar stunt.)

The box was a simple job: Gaslight simply had to build cardboard lips that moved. The bar tap was more complex, with mechanisms to move the head, as well as make the sunglasses move up and down when the mascot spoke.

The idea of the campaign was to get away from an intense, serious focus on the art of the beer that is common in this type of advertising.

"We were looking at the craft beer category, and a lot of them are taking themselves too seriously," said Dave Douglass, partner and executive creative director at Anomaly. "They're heavy into the ingredient mix, and the story. And here we have this beer with an orange wedge and a wheat Mohawk."

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The tactic is a hard sell; customers at the dep and the bar who gravitated toward other products were interrupted by the Shock Top mascot, who attempted to talk them out of spending their money on its competitors.

Sales at both locations rose dramatically during the stunts, Mr. Douglass said.

There will be more stunts, including talking washroom posters.

This type of advertising has come to be known as "experiential," and is on the rise as marketers look for new ways to get noticed.

At Labatt in particular, the former vice-president of marketing (who has since moved on to another position with parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev, in the U.S.) called together the company's advertising agencies a few years ago to demand they being thinking of different ways to approach its marketing. The move came out of an awareness that traditional advertising is no longer enough to win the attention of skeptical and ad-weary consumers.

"We know in today's world, that you can't approach problems the way you used to," Mr. Bascom said.

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