Labatt teams up with ‘cool’ volleyball brand

A recent deal with Labatt for an in-package T-shirt promo is akin to a volleyball kill for Fred Koops of Toronto. As the designer and retailer of Overkill, a line of beach volleyball gear, having the giant Toronto-based brewer call up 'out of the blue,' to buy about 420,000 tees and invest in an ad campaign for the giveaway was the ultimate score.
Sales spiked 15% this June over last as a result of the program.

A recent deal with Labatt for an in-package T-shirt promo is akin to a volleyball kill for Fred Koops of Toronto. As the designer and retailer of Overkill, a line of beach volleyball gear, having the giant Toronto-based brewer call up ‘out of the blue,’ to buy about 420,000 tees and invest in an ad campaign for the giveaway was the ultimate score.

Sales spiked 15% this June over last as a result of the program, he says, adding that he plans to enter the wholesale market next year. ‘The long-term benefit of the ad campaign is getting recognized, and that’s a huge benefit for selling in the future too.’

According to Andrew Howard, director of Labatt Blue and value brands for Labatt Breweries, the company approached Overkill because it was searching for a sportswear line that was familiar, but not too familiar, in other words more ‘edgy’ than a mainstream brand. ‘Whenever you associate with someone, you’re looking for the image transfer back and forth,’ he says. ‘We liked Overkill’s style and what they stood for – young, cool, and outdoor.’

The initiative, which is running in the Maritimes and Ontario, is being supported by two humorous TV spots, created by Toronto-based agency Grip. In one of the ads, a group of guys share an Overkill tee for various outdoor activities, to the point where the smell of the shirt eventually becomes unbearable. Two radio spots are also getting airplay. If Labatt sees an upswing in sales, Howard believes the relationship will continue. ‘[Overkill is] great to associate with, so I’d imagine there’s stuff we can do in the future,’ he says.

So how did Koops put his label on the map in the first place? He first served up Overkill in the late ’80s, when he played varsity v-ball for the University of Waterloo and realized there was a void in the Canadian market for clothing that is geared to the sport. In 1989, he outfitted his game partner at the time, Mark Heese, who later paired up with John Child, also an Overkill fan. The team of Heese and Child went on to win an Olympic bronze in Atlanta in 1996, showing off Overkill gear in preview shows and from the stands. (They weren’t allowed to wear the product during games because Overkill wasn’t a sponsor of the Olympics.)

‘Sponsorship was a good way for us to market our product,’ says Koops. ‘It legitimizes the product because the top players are wearing it.’

But Koops also hopes to stretch Overkill outside of the v-ball court, and has relied on pals in high places to aid his transition game. For instance, Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies has shopped at Overkill’s location in the Toronto Beaches area since long before the band hit superstardom, and he continues to don the clothes today. (Overkill also has a small shop on Queen Street.)

Robertson has been spotted in some music videos in Overkill, and was also once photographed in one of Koops’ tees for a Rolling Stone fashion shoot. ‘We don’t want to be seen as a strict volleyball line,’ says Koops. ‘A kill is an offensive score in volleyball, but the Overkill name makes sense for a lot of people. It supercedes the sport.’

Detroit Red Wings centre Kris Draper would agree. Also an acquaintance of Koops, Draper has appeared on TV warming up in the label. Furthermore, when Detroit won its Stanley Cup in 1998, Draper brought hockey’s holy grail by the Beaches store so that Overkill’s staff could get a glimpse of the coveted trophy.

‘I was in a hot tub in Vancouver at the time, looking at the mountains, and I called up the guys to brag [about soaking up life in Lotus Land],’ recalls Koops. ‘They said, ‘Oh yeah, well we’re looking at the Stanley Cup.’ I was like, ‘Ok, you win.”