Don Cherry may have upset some Canadians with his pro-American rant on Hockey Night in Canada, but that didn't stop the country's oldest brewer from introducing him yesterday as its new mascot.
Just in time for the hockey playoff beer wars, Molson Inc. announced yesterday that Mr. Cherry is starring in a new commercial for its "Bubba" mini-keg. As part of the promotion, some of his most outlandish suits have been reproduced on the party-sized containers and on cans of Molson Canadian.
Molson says it never considered yanking the campaign.
"Everybody knows he's a controversial guy and he's opinionated," said Michelle Robichaud, a spokeswoman for the brewer. "We don't think anyone is all that shocked about what his personal opinion is on Iraq."
On the March 22 instalment of Coach's Corner, Mr. Cherry and co-host Ron MacLean engaged in a seven-minute debate about the war in Iraq, prompting about 1,500 calls and e-mails to the CBC -- most complaining that HNIC is not the place to discuss Canada's foreign policy.
Speaking to reporters at Molson's news conference in Toronto yesterday, Mr. Cherry repeated his support for the United States and slammed anti-war protesters. "All it does is encourage Saddam Hussein," he said.
Despite Mr. Cherry's penchant for stirring up controversy, marketing experts say the agreement only has upside for the brewer. In a country mad for hockey and beer, hiring Mr. Cherry is "just short of brilliant," said Ken Wong, marketing professor at Queen's University. "It will provoke discussion and anything that gets your name talked about . . . has got to be a good thing."
The promotion, launched a week before the National Hockey League playoffs begin, also aims to capitalize on beer drinkers' obsession with collectible in-case paraphernalia, a trend that started a few years ago when arch-rival Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. offered miniature Stanley Cups.
Mr. Cherry, for one, predicts that the cans inspired by his unique sartorial tastes "are going to be dynamite." Asked if he had any reservations about endorsing an alcoholic beverage, given his influence with kids across Canada, he said he doesn't try to hide the fact that he indulges.
"I make no bones about it on TV that I have a few pops after the game and the whole deal. That's the way it is," he said.
In addition to paying Mr. Cherry for his time, Molson yesterday presented him with a $50,000 donation to Rose Cherry's Home. Named after his late wife, the hospice for terminally ill children is being constructed in Milton, Ont. Molson plans to raise additional funds for the home through radio station auctions of memorabilia, including Bubba cans autographed by Mr. Cherry.
"We've got to go out and scratch for everything we get and we're so thankful to Molson for giving us a hand," Mr. Cherry said.
The promotion presents a challenge to Labatt, which was the main sponsor of HNIC until the current season. During the playoffs, Labatt will be the exclusive beer sponsor on HNIC only during the first, third and overtime periods, meaning Mr. Cherry's face will be popping up on Coach's Corner and likely during commercial breaks in the second period.
Labatt, which is the NHL's official beer sponsor in Canada, has launched a hockey-themed promotion of its own, offering collectible bottles with painted-on labels bearing the logos of the Original Six NHL teams.