Special Report: In-store marketing: Bringing an elitist beer to the masses

Last month, the international Council of Sales Promotion Agencies met in New York City to determine the finalists in its annual awards competition. Twenty finalists were chosen in 10 categories, from among hundreds of entries submitted by agencies around the world....

Last month, the international Council of Sales Promotion Agencies met in New York City to determine the finalists in its annual awards competition. Twenty finalists were chosen in 10 categories, from among hundreds of entries submitted by agencies around the world. Three of the finalists were Canadian. This report will consist of case studies of the three Canadian programs. Each has an in-store element.

Few people, if any, want to be on a blacklist unless they can turn the stigma associated with it into a reverse status symbol.

So it was with both sides of this particular street in mind Promo Marketing Canada had to create a program that increased the customer base of Black Label/Black Ice beer drinkers without alienating regular drinkers of those brands who would see those labels being promoted for the first time.

As Promo Marketing Canada says about the campaign in its background literature:

‘The promotional campaign was a challenge in every sense. It was a first for Black Label, and the challenge lay in living up to its anti-conformist, non-conventional, ultra creative image that Black and Black drinkers [have been] carrying [around] for many years.’

Or, in other words, we do not want our beer to become just like Dad’s, or used to promote anything that will cause us to lose our cool.

The program for the Molson products, which ran last September to November in Quebec, relied heavily on attention-grabbing point-of-sale displays.

It was so successful it garnered a nomination for a Council of Sales Promotions Agencies award in New York last month alongside two other Canadian entries.

The winners among the 20 finalists will be announced this month.

Alain Cloutier, president of Promo Marketing Canada in Montreal, says because of the highly specific target group – young people 18 to 24 – the company created a sort of ‘illicit’ black market image that was highly provocative.

Renee Seguin, account director for Black Label at Promo Marketing Canada, says the p-o-s component of the promotion was in French only, with the rest of it – tv, radio, print, billboards – in French and English.

Seguin says the expression ‘La Black Liste’ was used for French and English executions since it is used, and has the same meaning, in both languages.

She says Promo Marketing Canada wanted to use Black Market (le marche noir) but were prevented from doing so by various regulatory authorities.

She says the campaign broke about the time the Quebec and federal governments were shutting down real black marketeers of smuggled cigarettes and alcohol.

The first thing Promo Marketing Canada did is change the packaging the Black Label beers came in – perhaps something more easily done in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada since beer (and wine) are sold in depanneurs or cornerstores in that province.

The case the Black Label was packed in was a trompe l’oeil of a wooden crate.

On the inside, consumers found points they could collect and later redeem for exclusive Black Label items or instant prizes of Black Label merchandise.

A promotional leaflet was also inserted in every case of beer sold.

Seguin says there was a range of merchandise customers could either buy or win, adding there were five Harleys to be won, as well as sunglasses, black denim jackets and T-shirts.

For accumulated points and cash, consumers could buy such items as Black Label leather belts, cigarette lighters and a poster.

Seguin says demand for the Black Label branded items was more than double what had been predicted.

Much more important to the program than any illusory wooden beer crate was the 3-D point-of-sale display, almost life-size models of Harley-Davidson motorcycles – the ultimate badass bike in North American popular culture.

Harley-Davidson, now as popular as ever after surviving the depredations of Japanese motorcycle makers, was a full partner in the promotion.

Cloutier says the floor portion of the in-store display permitted beer cases to be around a ‘biker couple,’ the main feature of the set-up.

In fact, Cloutier says one of the couple was life-size and able to wear a Black Label leather jacket like one of those beer buyers could win.

The $300 leather jacket on display was the retailer’s to keep once the promotion had ended.

Seguin says the major emphasis was on Black Label beer, with Black Ice along for the ride.

She says Black Label is almost never advertised in Quebec, giving it an underground cachet.

When the beer is advertised, she says it is always in an arty, bohemian fashion.

Media support for La Black Liste came from tv, radio and transit and naturally followed the edgy, illicit feel of the p-o-s.

One tv execution was in an abandoned warehouse filled with suspect wooden crates. Radio spots were threatening: We know who you are; you’re on the Black Liste.

In fact, there must have been plenty of people on that list. The Black Label promotion boosted sales of the brands 15%.