Labatt media account shift reverberates across industry

In the wake of the announcement last week by Labatt Breweries of Canada that it is moving its estimated $55-million media account from Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell (HYPN) to Initiative Media to strengthen its media bargaining power in the U.S.,...

In the wake of the announcement last week by Labatt Breweries of Canada that it is moving its estimated $55-million media account from Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell (HYPN) to Initiative Media to strengthen its media bargaining power in the U.S., word has come that the Initiative Media brand, itself, will soon disappear in Canada.

After Labatt Breweries North America announced last week that it was forging an international alignment with the McCann-

Erickson network of agencies, Initiative president Hugh Dow told Strategy that the unit he heads up will soon change its name to Universal McCann to better reflect its affiliation with the global network.

‘We will be aligning ourselves closer with the Universal brand name around the world, and once the dust has settled on the brewery situation, we’ll be moving forward on that,’ explains Dow. ‘Because this is a worldwide branding of the McCann media product, we’ll emphasize some of the common resources and common tools that will be made available around the world.’

Meanwhile, David Kincaid, vice-president of marketing with Toronto-based Labatt, says the brewer’s alignment with McCann-

Erickson will give it greater purchasing clout as it seeks to become a more formidable player in the U.S. market.

‘Don [Kitchen, president of Labatt Breweries North America] is really pushing to get that full integration on both sides of the border, so it’s a huge opportunity,’ he says. ‘Obviously, the buying power of an aligned McCann network in the U.S. and in Canada gives us the opportunity to add some further innovation and muscle to the media buy.’

Initiative, which had been handling media responsibilities for Molson Canada, promptly resigned the account last week, leaving Labatt’s main rival only 90 days to find a new media agency of record.

It was a vindication of sorts for both MacLaren, which was fired by Molson last year after serving as the brewer’s creative agency for nearly four decades, and for Tony Miller, the former president of MacLaren who left the agency in January to become executive vice-president, regional director of McCann

Erickson North America.

‘It puts us in a position where we can grow in the beer category again. The prospect of being able to do things beyond media is great for us,’ says Dom Caruso, president and COO of MacLaren. ‘With our previous client, we couldn’t do that,’ he adds.

A spokesperson for Molson, meanwhile, says the brewer was ‘completely surprised’ by the news, and hasn’t decided how it will select a new shop to service its media business, which is also believed to be worth over $55 million.

‘We’re looking at our options right now and [figuring out] what to do next,’ says Molson spokesperson Paul Thomson, who concedes a media review could be in the offing.

The decision clearly rocked HYPN, a shop which had worked with Labatt for more than 10 years, and which was actually owned by the brewer between 1990 and 1994.

‘We’re road kill on the global highway,’ says David Harrison, president and CEO of the agency. ‘Naturally, we’re extremely disappointed.’

Harrison would not comment on whether HYPN would pursue the Molson account, except to say, ‘You can make your own assessment about that. We certainly have openings for a brewery.’

Labatt’s alignment with the McCann network has also spurred some changes on the creative side. As first reported in Strategy (See ‘Labatt USA expected to tap Ammirati for Blue, Blue Light,’ Jan. 31, ’00), the Toronto office of Ammirati Puris Lintas has been named creative AOR on Labatt USA’s Blue, Blue Light, and John Labatt Classic brands. APL New York had previously handled these labels, but was forced to resign them after it merged last November with Lowe & Partners, which counts Heineken as one of its clients.

Toronto-based Ammirati, meanwhile, is expected to drop the ‘Lintas’ portion of its name and will be henceforth known as Ammirati Puris. The shop will function as an independent agency of New York-based Interpublic Group and will service the needs of both McCann and Lowe Lintas where necessary, says Bill Durnan, president of Ammirati Puris.

As part of the alignment, Labatt USA will hand McCann-Erickson creative assignments on a number of its brands, including Rolling Rock, Dos Equis and Lowenbrau.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group