Go ahead, be a snob

Because of Rob Morrell's resemblance to Tom Cruise, hotel staff during a recent Cuban vacation took to calling him by the movie star's name. As flattering as that might be, what they're saying about the Molson Canada brand manager in Toronto is even better.

Because of Rob Morrell’s resemblance to Tom Cruise, hotel staff during a recent Cuban vacation took to calling him by the movie star’s name. As flattering as that might be, what they’re saying about the Molson Canada brand manager in Toronto is even better.

Flying fastest are kudos for Morrell’s leadership on the latest marketing program for Heineken Canada, whose beer is the top-selling European import here.

Dubbed ‘Meet You There,’ the campaign encompasses a number of imaginative components designed to woo young urbanites, primarily males. It began rolling out in June at Toronto’s Banzai Sushi restaurant with a launch party for H2 – Heineken’s sleek new aluminum bottle.

Morrell says H2′s key differentiator is unabashed exclusivity. It will be available in Canada for only a limited time beginning in August. And sales will be strictly on-premise at what he terms ‘up-style clubs, lounges, bars and restaurants.’

Heineken’s deliberately snooty strategy, which originated in Amsterdam, is already a big hit internationally.

Duplicating its success in Canada would be a challenge for any marketer. But for someone with as brief a resumé as Morrell’s it’s that much more impressive.

At the tender age of 28, with only 18 months at Molson Canada, Morrell is already the brand manager for not only Heineken but also Amstel Light, Murphy’s Irish Stout and Murphy’s Irish Amber. The New Brunswick native previously spent four years climbing the marketing ladder at Moosehead Breweries’ HQ in Saint John, N.B.

Despite having so little professional experience, Morrell is handling his brand responsibilities exceptionally well, says his boss, David Baskin, Molson’s director of partner brands. ‘Everything that flows into that brand comes through Rob as the brand champion. He brings a high and infectious level of passion that gets the whole team excited. He has an easygoing manner that draws people toward him, but he also commands respect.’

In part that respect stems from understanding his target so well. ‘Knowing where the cool and interesting spots are helps me connect to young, urban, male opinion leaders, who are really key for us right now,’ explains Morrell, adding that the ‘Meet You There’ campaign is ‘aimed as much at a mind-set as an actual demographic. So we’re targeting people who share Heineken’s belief that life rewards you when you go beyond your everyday life to experience new things. And we’re communicating that in a variety of non-traditional ways.’

For example, instead of the typical postcard party invitations for the June 16 launch, key media, customers, and representatives from the fashion and music industries received a CD containing samples of the creative plus the campaign song ‘Cobrastyle’ from Swedish group The Teddybears featuring Mad Cobra.

And for several days preceding the launch, H2, with help from Toronto-based youth marketing firm Youthography, invaded the stomping grounds of its target market with storefront displays at Queen Street West hot spots Boomer, C-Squared, Black Market Records, Del-Phic and Heel Boy. This, like the CD, was Morrell’s idea.

Then at the party, the have-an-adventure theme was reinforced big time. Surrounded by posters expressing one of the campaign’s key tag lines, ‘Flirt in another language,’ guests were encouraged to do just that with the help of models. Clad in Heineken’s signature green, they mingled to supply translations of the phrase in various languages.

While a funky new music style called mash was mixed by popular DJs Andrew Allsgood and Rene from Black Market, guests sampled exotic foods plus the contents of the new aluminum bottle, which was created for Heineken by French designer Ora Ito.

The climax of the event was the reveal of ‘Greenspace,’ a 60-second TV spot – by Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam and adapted by Toronto-based Ryan Partnership – that hit movie theatres on June 27 and will reach TV screens in August. The bash was such a success that a similar party is being planned for Montreal, and other major Canadian cities will soon follow.

Also presented at Banzai were samples of the new outdoor and print campaign – all of which, says Morrell, ‘are designed to challenge people to think about doing things differently.’

Paul Tedesco, VP of Ryan Partnership, credits Morrell with coming up with a ‘key insight’ for the new campaign. ‘He recognized that this is an international brand [set to break] in cosmopolitan Canadian cities like Toronto and Montreal [and elsewhere later on], so it needed international resonance.’

Hence billboards and posters – with headlines such as ‘Introduce yourself’ and ‘Smile and see what happens’ – will include translated versions set in corresponding ethnic neighbourhoods.

Beer analyst Michael Palmer, VP of Toronto’s Veritas Investment Research, thinks the campaign has the earmarks of a slam dunk in refreshing the Heineken brand. ‘Urban males like to be seen drinking expensive beer in expensive-looking containers because they obviously think that’s going to impress urban females.’

While Morrell doesn’t actually articulate that no-brainer notion, it’s undoubtedly embedded somewhere in what he calls his ‘litmus test’ for effective campaigns: ‘Could we place another brand of beer into a given initiative? If the answer is no because it’s just so Heineken then it’s obviously right for our brand.’

Five Questions

Favourite book: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom – that book made me cry on a plane!

Marketer you admire most: Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin – he has been able to build a brand and businesses that have successfully challenged the status quo in all kinds of markets.

Most useful business book: The Art of War by Sun Tsu – It helped teach me that many great strategies and truths are timeless, whether it be in business, relationships or life.

First job: Retail sales clerk at a department store – I learned how to listen to customers and that I didn’t want to work in retail.

Last ad that inspired you to make a purchase: Crest White Strips – have you seen how white those things can make your teeth!?