Stella Artois gets immersive, again

The brand is activating at Refinery 29's made-for-Instagram 29Rooms event to get people to pair its beer with food.

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Way back in 2015, Stella Artois did what many brands are clamouring to do today. Through its “Sensorium,” the beer brand created a first-of-its-kind (at the time) immersive experience that elevated their taste, touch, sight and audio senses. Fast forward to 2019 and Stella is doing it again, this time with a partner, Refinery29, in tow.

Refinery29′s interactive made-for-instagram “29 Rooms” has popped up in Washington D.C., L.A., New York and it recently arrived in Toronto. The event promises to “connect users to their curiosity” through “29 experiences under one roof that tap into the conversations of today and our hopes for tomorrow.”

For its part, Stella Artois is strengthening the association between beer and food by curating three rooms that re-imagine low brow eating experiences (a vending machine and drive thru) by making them more refined and elevated.

Mike Bascom, senior director of marketing at parent co. Labatt Breweries of Canada, tells strategy that vending machines are typically associated with stale environments and low-quality snacks. However, it’s something the brand is flipping on its head with a high-end Calgary chef showcasing items like classic crème brulee, which is torched on-site and deposited by hand via the vending machine.

Similarly, he says, a drive-thru experience typically involves a muffled speaker and urban traffic. But with the 29Rooms activation, Bascom says the typical menu item of burger and fries, is replaced with mock tartare and a chickpea and roasted beet brioche, as well pork jerky strips that mimic fries. And instead of driving away, he says users walk through a curtain and are immersed in a European-style “brand world,” based on a typical town in Stella’s home country, Belgium. And, of course, attendees can wash down food with Stella Artois beer.

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Bascom says Stella Artois is seen as a premium beer in the category, but there is a higher objective to the “29Rooms” installation. “Beer is often left off of the dinner table and not given a fair shake,” he says. He adds that Stella’s brand is a classic European lager, versatile enough to pair with many foods that can elevate them in a way that people normally associate with wine. “We like to think of Stella as the Trojan Horse of the category” to pair with food, says Bascom.

He adds that, through “Sensorium: Deja Food, Elevating the Everyday,” the goal is to challenge the way people experience a meal, the crux that sparked the 2015 event, when the brand held immersive dining experiences in tents set up not far from the city’s TIFF Bell Lightbox, complete with video projections and live drummers. While that activation had 160 diners, Bascom says Refinery29 expects 10,000 in total to experience the CNE’s 29Room’s event (which also includes brands like Reebok, Covergirl, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Dairy Farmers of Ontario).

“We were excited with what 29Rooms was doing, and it aligned with that we are trying to do as a brand,” he says. “It’s the same target, the difference is we wanted to make the ['Sensorium'] event more accessible than the one in 2015.”

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