Guenette finds room to grow beer share

When Rob Guenette joined Molson Breweries in 1999, it was his task to turn around a flagging Molson Export brand that was at the time, by his own admission, in free-fall. ...

When Rob Guenette joined Molson Breweries in 1999, it was his task to turn around a flagging Molson Export brand that was at the time, by his own admission, in free-fall.

That the VP of marketing for Export accomplished this in less than two years is testament both to his skills as a marketer and to the fundamentals of old-fashioned brand building.

Having cut his teeth at various marketing jobs at Unilever Canada beginning with Lipton back in the late 1980s, Guenette developed a keen eye for communicating the virtues that best help consumer packaged goods brands rise above the competition.

He parlayed that experience into a winning formula when he joined Molson by not only turning the fortunes of Export around, but also boosting its share 20%, he says.

Central to that effort has been the ‘Had Ex Today’ TV and radio campaign, created by London-based HHCL, which features young men – and, sometimes, women – contemplating ways to get out of sexual encounters in order to enjoy time with friends drinking Ex.

A second focal point to the strategy was to grab Export’s core demographic of young working class men where they go to relax. To that end, the brand shrewdly managed to hook into sports properties such as the National Lacrosse League and WWF wrestling that speak directly to Export’s key target. The decision was also made to step away from hockey, leaving that property to Canadian.

In a tough market, Export is making noise again and beer drinkers, it appears, are taking notice.

Guenette has also been charged with performing a similar trick with Molson’s Rickards brand, which is being pushed largely by a very significant outdoor buy.

Strategy sat down with Guenette to talk beer and the vagaries of one of the world’s most competitive markets.

Q. What is the most pressing issue facing beer marketers today?

A. In the confines of the beer market, it is how to get growth. It’s a very mature, sophisticated category where overall consumption isn’t increasing.

Q. And what are you doing to address that?

A. Make sure that we have our portfolio firing on all cylinders. Canadian has been revitalized and working well for some time now, but we had to get our other brands going, which we did with Export and Rickards.

Q. What kinds of results are you looking to achieve?

A. Breweries in Canada measure growth by .01%. It’s that flat and it’s that tough. So when we have big corporate objectives to grow by half a share point, that’s like moving a mountain.

Q. With premiums beginning to encroach on the twentysomething beer drinkers are you looking to target older consumers?

A. In order to have a buoyant business longer-term, everyone is targeting the same demographic – legal drinking age to 29. Very few brands are actually overtly targeting audiences older than that. Essentially, everybody is fighting for that fertile youth audience. That is not, however, all the same consumer. Within that large demographic, there are wholly different attitudes and different segments. For instance, even though from an age perspective Canadian and Export are targeting the same audience, the Export consumer is a completely different person from the Canadian consumer. So I think there is a lot of opportunity for all the players in this market to really slice out their particular piece of the pie. Remember, a five-share brand in Canada is huge. It’s not like brands are going in there and capturing 50% market share. It’s simply not happening.

Q. What do you anticipate in the coming year in terms of the beer market?

A. It’s going to get even tougher, if that’s possible, because there are going to be more brands with more voices. Look at Molson two or three years ago. Export was not talking, Rickards wasn’t talking. Look at our competitor. All its brands weren’t ignited. But if you look at Labatt, Molson, and for that matter Sleeman with their new ad agency (Zig), all these brands are out there with a voice.

Q. Tell us about the Ex turnaround.

A. The brand was in long-term decline. We’re talking over a decade of steady and dramatic decline. So task one was to get the attention or our target audience. Task two was make sure we made this brand youth relevant, not at the expense of our core users, but in addition to. The other thing we had to do was come out with a campaign. We couldn’t come out with just one ad; we had to show consistency.

Q. Now what?

A. We are keeping the British agency (HHCL). They have the brief and we are working on the evolution now.

Part of the brief that went to HHCL says that now it is not good enough just to come out and shock. We have to come out equally as surprising but equally as compelling. We have to ratchet it up in terms of engagement and sustainability. We have to reward consumers for watching.

Q. What do you demand from creative?

A. We just take for granted that it is going to be on brief and on strategy. No question. But especially in the case of Export where it was dormant for a while, we have to make sure that it’s unbelievably engaging, that it has talk value, that it brings the brand back into pop culture and makes the brand famous again – not with everyone, just with the target market.