Labatt employs dry humour

Watch out for those sensitive bullshit meters. If there's one thing that Labatt Breweries of Canada has learned from its efforts to promote responsible drinking to the campus crowd, that's it: If you want smart, skeptical university and college students to...

Watch out for those sensitive bullshit meters. If there’s one thing that Labatt Breweries of Canada has learned from its efforts to promote responsible drinking to the campus crowd, that’s it: If you want smart, skeptical university and college students to take your message seriously, then you’d better make sure it rings true to them.

Labatt has been preaching moderation on Canadian campuses for more than a decade now, says Sharon McKay, the brewery’s director of public affairs. And in developing and refining its message, the company has relied on insights gleaned from ongoing conversations with the target audience.

Indeed, Labatt’s current on-campus "responsible use" program – known as "Fresh Heads" – was essentially designed by and for students.

"It’s their program," she says "They’ve developed it. And it’s their input, ownership and reaction that determines the program’s success."

Fresh Heads is now in its second year. Created with the assistance of Toronto-based agency Axmith McIntyre Wicht, the program employs "dry" events and elected student co-ordinators to spread the moderation message.

This year’s effort, for example, will include orientation week comedy shows and mid-term pajama parties at the 12 Canadian post-secondary institutions that take part in the program.

Popular events like comedy nights fit into the campus lifestyle, and help get the point across to students in their own language, rather than in a preachy or parental fashion, says Brian Howlett, partner and associate creative director at Axmith McIntyre Wicht. "We’ve learned that’s the best way to deliver the message."

The program is supported with ongoing awareness advertising. Howlett says the ad campaign is essentially a "guerrilla" effort designed to weave naturally into the fabric of everyday campus life. Stickers are plastered in locations such as pay phones and laundromats, while specially designed tray liners and pillowcases pop up in cafeterias and residence halls. Ads designed to look like handmade "for sale" or "lost and found" notices also appear on bulletin boards.

"The campus is its own little world and I think what we’re doing is acknowledging the rules of that world," Howlett says. "The ads have that wonderful unpaid-for feel – it’s more street-wise advertising."

The 18-24 target group is quick to tune out slick advertising, he adds. So the "responsible use" creative is meant to look cheaply produced, "as if a bunch of students were doing it."

One bulletin board poster, for example, advertises a room available: "Hardwood floors, lots of lighting, furniture, spacious, etc…. Rent negotiable. Last roommate kicked out of school. No partyers." The only indication that this is, in fact, a corporate message is the presence of the Labatt "Know When to Draw the Line" slogan.

"It’s advertising, and we’re writing it," Howlett says, "but we’re writing it after having heard [students] tell us what they’re thinking about. I doubt we could have come up with this stuff without them."

During the conceptual stages of Fresh Heads, Labatt partnered with Toronto-based youth marketing consultancy d-Code, which conducted online research with Canadian students via chat rooms.

Students were later brought in to assist with the development of the program, McKay says – and the brewery continues to consult with them in its efforts to improve Fresh Heads. Campus wellness centres and student unions have also proven invaluable in identifying areas of student concern.

Labatt is now in the process of rolling out a Fresh Heads Web site ( Initially, the site will be purely informational. But with the help of students, McKay says, the brewery hopes to develop it into a "community- and content-oriented destination" for the target audience.

"We’d like to create a sense of community through the program, whereby students can share ideas to get this message out," she says.

Also in this report:

- Those cool Chupa Chicks: Chupa Chups’ grassroots efforts to lick Canada has edgy scooter girls taking to the streets and talking up the club crowd p.B2

- Advertising to kids in Quebec no picnic: Know the rules or suffer the consequences p.B10

- Dentyne Ice locks lips with youth target: Has built ongoing campaign on theme of anticipating first kiss p.B14

- Grads more valuable than you know p.B15

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