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With Budweiser’s Olympic-themed gold lights, a Canadian marketing idea goes global

The gold-plated lights are part of a new partnership with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, whose replica signature and No. 99 appear on the lights, which ring in at $400 a pop.

Labatt Breweries of Canada

Labatt Breweries of Canada may not be an official Olympic sponsor, but it is going for the gold.

During the Super Bowl broadcast on Feb. 4 – just days before the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea – Budweiser will air a new advertising campaign in Canada, turning its "Red Light" gold. The Bud-branded hockey-goal light was conceived by Labatt's advertising agency, Anomaly Toronto, and can be synchronized to light up when a customer's favourite team scores. In the five years since the campaign began, Budweiser has also introduced glasses with red lights in the base and other items such as Christmas lights and pitchers. In total, the product line has racked up roughly $15-million in sales.

The gold-plated lights are part of a new partnership with hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, whose replica signature and No. 99 appear on the lights, which ring in at $400 a pop (more than double the cost of the usual lights). The company is also selling glasses with a gold light in the base instead of a red one. While rival Molson Coors Brewing Co. is the official beer sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Labatt says its gold-themed campaign, called "Bring It Home," is intended to celebrate Canada's "biggest goals."

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Mr. Gretzky stars in the online version alongside former hockey Olympians Tessa Bonhomme and Geraldine Heaney and former NHLers Dale Hawerchuck and Paul Henderson. The players and some fans are shown watching a game on TV while an announcer can be heard saying that the team has "got the whole nation behind them."

And it's not the only appearance the Budweiser lights will be making in the big game: Parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev SA is also mulling a Super Bowl promotion in the United States, although the company would not provide details.

It's a sign that the Canadian marketing team's bright idea is going global. AB InBev is planning a campaign in the lead-up to the FIFA World Cup this summer that features the light-up glasses, and Budweiser has been working the glasses into its sponsorship as the official beer of the NFL. In September, it launched the "touchdown glass" and gave away 68,000 of them at a New England Patriots game. The Patriots' e-commerce site sold another 20,000. The company has e-commerce partnerships for the glass with eight other teams and with the league.

While the original goal lights have been successful, they are also hockey-specific. The glasses give the marketing campaign the possibility of expansion into markets that are less hockey-mad than Canada.

"It's a solution against any sport," said Andrew Oosterhuis, Labatt's director of marketing for Budweiser.

The $15-million for Red Light products is a drop in the bucket for AB InBev, which reported $45.5-billion (U.S.) in revenue in 2016, but there is other value motivating the expansion of the campaign.

In order to synchronize their lights or glasses to their team's goals, customers have to download a mobile app, which asks users to be included in Budweiser's marketing database. It's a way of asking for consent to contact them more directly – which avoids creeping out your customers.

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It is also becoming necessary: In May, new privacy regulations will come into effect in the European Union giving people more control over how their information is used for marketing purposes. Even where rules are not quite so strict, awareness around digital privacy is growing. Finding non-intrusive ways to ask customers for permission to reach out to them is becoming more important for marketers.

For example, through its database – which includes roughly 250,000 people in Canada – Budweiser will offer first right to purchase the Gretzky-branded gold lights at a discount to some existing customers.

"We have a home on people's phones. That's a unique position for a [consumer packaged-goods company] to be in," Mr. Oosterhuis said. "The marketing challenge is very similar around the world: Brands are trying to earn instead of pay for attention."

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