Beer wars: Canadian vs. Blue

High summer is upon us, and that means war (if you're a beerco). Feeling nostalgic and patriotic (must be the heat), we scoped out the ad battle plans of two quintessentially Canadian beer brands - Canadian and Blue - and asked Tom Murphy, CD at St. John's-based Target, and Fred Roberts, VP/CD at Toronto-based Cundari, to referee the always-heated fight for suds supremacy.

In this corner: the iconic Molson Canadian

Molson Canadian has always stood for all things, well…Canadian. And its latest brand platform is no exception. ‘The Code’ is a new beer anthem for good old Canadian boys everywhere. From growing playoff beards to feeling bad about reclining on planes, Molson dug up insights to support its theory that there is such a thing as an unwritten Canadian guy code.

‘Guys really believe that ‘The Code’ reflects them. They see themselves in it,’ says Michael Shekter, senior brand manager at Molson, adding that developing the new strategy was a long, careful process. ‘Something we’ve always been conscious of on Canadian is that while we’re always interested in attracting new users, we have one of the largest user bases of any beer in Canada, so we don’t want to alienate our existing customers.’

So far, so good. Shekter reports that both preliminary research and anecdotal feedback indicate ‘The Code’ will be around for a while. ‘Generally, the old-timers love it and the new people love it,’ he says. ‘This is just the beginning. We can’t wait to take it everywhere.’

Everywhere, indeed. A summer campaign touting a colossal monument set to be unveiled in late August, the Molson Canadian ‘Mega Keg’ is very hard to miss. It includes TV, stylized the same way the original Code TV spots were, with a narrative about why Canadians like ‘big things,’ as well as OOH, mobile, in-store and online elements emphasizing the ‘bigness’ of the Mega Keg. Consumers are invited to enter (via mobile or online) to win access to a huge Mega Keg party.

Overall strategies – Canadian vs. Blue

Murphy: These two summer campaigns battling for supremacy as the Canadian beer couldn’t be more different. There are elements I like in both, but to be fair, Molson’s ‘Mega Keg’ body-slams Labatt’s ‘The Good Stuff’ out of the arena. Molson is focused, and continues to expand on its young Canadian brand with ‘Mega Keg’ – sometimes smartly, sometimes a little tackily – by saying, ‘Come out, party, have a blast and get trashed.’ Labatt – with its Budweiser brand going head-to-head with Molson for the younger market – is attempting to zag (as opposed to zig) with Blue, by going after a more authentic audience. An audience that’s maturing and socially concerned. I like the thought behind the campaign, but the messaging comes across as somewhat disconnected. There doesn’t seem to be any glue holding the elements together.

Roberts: Molson has taken the ‘let’s pack as much fun into the summer as humanly possible’ strategy and wrapped it into a huge beer keg. It’s a strategy that feels generic to me. Budweiser, Coors Light and Canadian all seem the same. Labatt, on the other hand, wants the beer drinker to buy ‘The Good Stuff.’ Blue is better than regular (inexpensive) beer? Really?

Molson ‘Mega Keg’ summer activation

Murphy: Molson stays true to brand with its ‘Mega Keg’ promotion, which is as supersized and in your face as the giant vat of beer it pays homage to. All the elements – although occasionally juvenile – fit together. The concept is focused: drink as much as you can and have a ton of fun while you do it.

Roberts: It’s well executed, but the idea feels generic. I’m sure there are ‘mega’ piles of research that support this strategy, but is the demographic getting numb to these types of ads?

‘Mega Keg’ OOH

Murphy: Not as slick as the TV and radio. I find it garish and over-the-top. I like the concept of a huge keg overshadowing tiny party animals, but the illustration could be elevated to another level.

Roberts: Weak. Seems like a typical bar poster. Could they have leveraged ‘You can’t miss it’ differently?

‘Mega Keg’ TV

Murphy: This is my favourite element of the campaign. I think it’s brilliant. Oversized things are funny, especially oversized Canadian things like lobsters and beavers. Young men like oversized things too, right? Plus it’s a fitting follow-up to ‘The Code’ TV spot.

Roberts: Well art directed and -written spot. The supersize hammock and BBQ were funny accents.

The creds

advertiser: Molson Canada

creative: Zig

online: Henderson Bas

mobile: MyThum Interactive

prodco: Circle Productions

PR: Pilot PMR

media: Mediaedge:cia

In the other corner: quintessentially Canadian Labatt Blue

Labatt Blue has always been good at playing up its Canadian heritage. Beginning last year, it tweaked its messaging to tout its quality with ‘The Good Stuff’ platform to further resonate with its ‘real beer drinking’ target. The new strategy proved to be a good one, leading Blue to see an increase in sales at The Beer Stores in Ontario for the first time in many years.

‘In 2008, the challenge was to carry the momentum we built in 2007,’ says Andrew Sneyd, Labatt’s marketing director, Budweiser Family, Blue Family and value brands. Blue opted to play up the popular ‘Mr. Good Stuff,’ the straight-shooting, gruff-but-lovable beer connoisseur who pops up to remind young men not to serve their friends sub-par brews. ‘Consumers have really warmed to his authentic tone,’ says Sneyd. ‘There was an opportunity to increase his visibility on the brand.’

Mr. Good Stuff, played by actor Doug Lennox, made live appearances at Blue Bottle Drives this summer, for a promo very much tied to its roots. The effort aims to raise money for military families, and entailed a special Canada Day delivery of Blue to Canadian troops in Afghanistan. (Labatt opted for a more low-key summer activation for Blue to appeal to its authenticity-seeking target, while its younger-skewing Budweiser is doing larger-scale summer promos to compete directly with Canadian.)

Mr. Good Stuff also voices all of Blue’s radio spots this year. ‘He has such a strong, distinct voice. It’s great that he’s able to cut through the clutter in radio,’ says Sneyd. Mr. Good Stuff also plays a central role in a 30-second TV spot called ‘Moving Day,’ in which he stops a young man from serving his friends ‘the OK stuff’ after they helped him move.

Sneyd says ‘The Good Stuff’ isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon: ‘We’re really proud of the way this campaign is resonating with Canadians in a real Canadian way.’

Blue’s ‘The Good Stuff’

Murphy: Again, Labatt’s ‘The Good Stuff’ has good ideas behind it, but the messaging isn’t well connected. They’re expecting a lot from the consumer to process it all and connect the dots. I’m left feeling underwhelmed; I would have liked to have seen a bigger umbrella idea that ties everything together.

Roberts: I grew up on Blue; I never thought it was any better or worse than any other brew. I just bought into the brand. Blue must be feeling the squeeze from value brands to take on a price strategy. ‘The Good Stuff’ doesn’t feel big or lofty enough to be a brand ad, my hope is that it is a short-term tactical ad.

Blue Bottle Drive

Murphy: It’s admirable that Labatt is adding to the Military Families Fund, and it’s an interesting idea, taking a sophisticated, concerned position to differentiate the brand from Molson Canadian, but again, it seems to be out there on its own. I’m also not sure that a promotion to draw attention to the sobering situation in Afghanistan is particularly suitable for the category.

Roberts: A great initiative for a noble cause, which builds on a tradition that began when John Labatt hand-delivered beer to Canadian soldiers during the Korean War. This effort seems small in comparison. Why just a three-day bottle drive in two markets? This could have been leveraged on a larger scale to not only help the families and the cause but the brand Blue as well.

‘The Good Stuff’ TV

Murphy: I quite enjoyed this spot. It’s a solid retail ad, well executed and sophisticated, but I feel as if Labatt trying to do too much in 30 seconds. They’re trying to A) attract the authentic audience, B) encourage their existing demographic to grow up and mature and C) saying, ‘By the way, the quality ‘Good Stuff’ is actually on sale.’ It’s a lot to take in and it’s not focused. This spot translates as trying to target everyone, with too many messages and not enough focus.

Roberts: Well-executed spot – although it feels small for a brand spot. Is it me, or does the pitchman’s voice seem out of sync? Regardless, my kids know the spot word for word.

Blue website

Murphy: As with the bottle drive, being able to send a message to the troops via the website is a worthy idea, but again, where’s the overarching idea that connects the dots? Also, it doesn’t seem to have achieved much success, judging by the less than 100 messages posted on the site. It doesn’t tie in with the TV ad and continues the overall lack of focus the campaign seems to suffer from.

Roberts: It’s an easy-to-navigate site with lots of interesting facts about the brand, but it feels old. I was looking for some connection to ‘The Good Stuff’ TV ad but found none. I was also surprised it didn’t have any sticky elements.

The creds

advertiser: Labatt Breweries of Canada

creative: Grip, Publicis

prodco: Sons and Daughters

PR: Edelman

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