Labatt’s Kristen Morrow: Beer drinkers’ best bud

Kristen Morrow taps diverse experiences to brew up cruises, iconic heroes and hockey fun for Bud Light.

Kristen Morrow sits on an oversized brown leather chair in what appears to be a typical bar, with dart boards on the wall and neon signs flashing above refrigerated shelves stocked to the brim with Labatt Blue, Alexander Keith’s and Bud Light, to name a few. The bar is empty – usually a bad sign, but perfectly normal for this one, since it’s located in the Labatt HQ in downtown Toronto. They use the bar for special events, training and to celebrate Labatt victories.

Morrow, national marketing manager on Bud Light, has had a few successes of her own since joining the company in November 2007. She’s led the charge on several big campaigns, such as her crowning achievement, the creation of ‘Budd Light’ – a blue-jumpsuit-wearing fictional spokesperson who plays into Bud’s young male target’s love of comedy à la Family Guy and Flight of the Conchords. In superhero-esque form, he helps ‘keep the good times going’ by coming to the aid of partygoers in need. In one ad, Budd Light saves a poolside gathering from being ruined by a creepy Speedo-wearing party crasher.

Launched in July 2008 and conceived with Bud Light AOR, Toronto-based Grip Limited, ‘Budd Light’ is the beer’s central campaign for 2009/10. ‘We talked about personification, and literally out of that, the character was born,’ says Morrow.

‘It was a great opportunity to have a character that could embody the spirit of the brand and put him in various situations our consumers can relate to as being the impetus for great times,’ says Matt Shoom-Kirsch, group director at Grip. The groundwork included extensive consumer research to define the character. ‘It was about a six-month process to bring it to life,’ Morrow explains. ‘We had an idea of who he was based on our consumer profile but [the consumers] actually helped us better define him, so anything from changing his look to his language to his personality.’

Budd has since appeared on TV spots, OOH and online, and he’s being leveraged across multiple touchpoints – you’ll be seeing him on a variety of Bud promotions going forward. Morrow says that since coming to Labatt, she’s been the most proud of this campaign, and especially the character’s leveragability.

The beer co, which is part of Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, has been brewing Bud Light in Canada since its launch in 1986, and has seen at least a dozen original Canadian campaign premises since then. It’s the number one light beer in the world and the number five beer in Canada with Coors Light (the number one light beer here, which came to Canada around the same time) as its biggest competition, according to Morrow. With plenty of light brands on the beer store shelf vying for drinkers’ attention, Morrow has had to pay close attention to what works best across the country with the help of two assistant brand managers and her boss, marketing director Andrew Sneyd, as well as a research manager, a media manager and regional customer marketing and sales managers. She also oversees activity in Quebec, with a marketing manager there who works on some Quebec-only initiatives – such as a recent TV spot promoting Bud’s NHL t-shirt offer created by Brad – as well as adapting national campaigns for the province.

When it comes to her career, Morrow hasn’t followed the straight and narrow path. While many work their way up the corporate ladder at one of the biggies, or tend to advance by taking the next job at the competition, Morrow has taken a less linear approach.

She started out at P&G 11 years ago where she worked on the repositioning of the Royale brand as Charmin. From the CPG realm she moved on to the digital dating sphere, joining Lavalife in 2003 just as online dating was exploding. After a few years at Lava, she found herself at a hot youth telco brand (seemingly an oxymoron), Virgin, where she worked on the launch of its post-paid mobile service.

‘What she brings when she walks in the door at Labatt is great broad experience from the marketing discipline that she gained at P&G, the risk-taking that she would pick up at Virgin and the sense of ownership that you get from working at a smaller company like Lavalife,’ says Sneyd.

Morrow’s now channeling all that to lead the charge on an August campaign, the Bud Light Caribbean Cruise promotion. Beer-loving Canadians will have a chance to win one of hundreds of trips. The cruise is a four-day, three-night beer extravaganza aboard two ships filled with 5,000 Bud Light drinkers. This will be the second summer of the cruise, but the first one open to Canadians (it was U.S.-only last year).

‘The scale of it is huge, and I think it’s unparalleled in terms of what we’re doing in Canada for a summer promotion,’ says Morrow, explaining that she wanted to bring the campaign to Canada because it’s quite different yet ‘in the Bud Light tone – so fun, young, social.’

Although the main target for Bud is young men, Morrow notes that it’s a co-ed brand, meaning that the guys who drink it tend to be social and the people they’re often socializing with are women. This fact drove the Canadian TV creative which debuts in August with two spots, one from the male point of view and the other from a POV rarely seen in beer ads – the female perspective. The campaign, created by Grip with promotional work by Mosaic, includes packaging, a microsite and online advertising.

Beer goes with hockey like bread goes with butter, so it’s no wonder Bud Light jumped on board as the official sponsor of the NHL back in 2005. To kick off this past hockey season, Morrow led a major event that involved closing down Crescent Street in Montreal for the first weekend in October. A huge synthetic ice rink was constructed in the middle of the street that hosted four on four charity games, and the 200,000 attendees could also play interactive games, see Hockey Hall of Fame displays and listen to live music. Another Crescent Street event was held in January to coincide with the NHL All-Star game, where people could check out ice sculptures and enjoy a concert by rock band Hedley. Impressively, 30,000 people came out despite the -30 degree temperature.

‘She needed to get the team quickly oriented around [the] NHL All-Star game and working with the bar owners association in Montreal plus Grip, Mosaic and other partners, really did a great idea session and got the most out of that opportunity,’ says Sneyd. ‘She pushed the team on dreaming about how big it could be, and then listened to lots of issues [under] short timelines, but worked out with folks how they could take that to a great spot.’

The events complemented a slew of other Bud Light NHL-themed initiatives, including plenty of OOH and an online game called Bud Light Play Action Live that allowed fans to play trivia at Playaction.tv/budlight as the hockey game unfolds.

The hockey theme has also carried over to several humorous TV spots by Grip, depicting sportscasters asking questions like ‘Are there too many cheesy graphics on sports shows?’ The ads have garnered lots of buzz according to Morrow, even being referenced by real commentators on TSN and getting plenty of wall post mentions by the over 26,000 fans on Bud Light’s Canadian Facebook page.

While more and more brands dip their toes in the social networking world with UGC programs, Morrow says that Bud’s online popularity is a result of giving the consumers a reason to come back. ‘We’re in constant communication,’ she says of keeping up with fans online. ‘With our NHL [sponsorship] there’s always an opportunity to win tickets to a game; there’s opportunities to win tickets to Blue Jays games (which Bud Light also sponsors); so it’s not only talking to consumers, it’s also about rewarding them.’

What’s more impressive is the over 40,000 Facebook fans garnered in the first three weeks for the newest member of the Bud family – Bud Light Lime. The citrus lager was brought to Canada by popular demand; several Facebook petitions popped up with drinkers who had experienced it in the U.S. lobbying for local access. Launched with much fanfare this spring by Labatt innovation team Maria Guest and Dave Nicholls, consumers witnessed OOH, street car wraps, cinema advertising, TV spots and more – including massive street teams doing the twist and handing out limes in Toronto and Montreal. Morrow is now preparing to include the new beer in Bud Light marketing efforts going forward.

‘There are so many things that you could do to connect your brand and to speak with consumers and it can be overwhelming in terms of all the choices,’ Morrow says about the challenges of marketing beer. ‘A strategy is an educated choice and you could make a hundred of them, but what are the three or four that are going to connect with your consumer in the best possible way?’

According to Sneyd, Morrow’s found the right formula: ‘She’s got a great mindset where she balances facts with ‘role up your sleeves and get stuff done’ and I think that’s respected in the beer culture.’

BIO

Born: Nov. 17, 1975, Toronto, ON

Raised in: Guelph, ON

Education: bachelor of commerce, co-op from Dalhousie University in Halifax

Status: getting hitched on Aug. 22

Career: recruited by P&G upon graduation in 1998 where she worked as assistant brand manager on core paper and then brand manager on health and beauty. She left P&G in 2002 and started at Lavalife in 2003 as marketing manager and was later promoted to marketing director. Morrow then went to Virgin in 2006, first as online manager and then brand and communications manager. She came to Labatt for her current position in November 2007.

FIVE QUESTIONS

What’s your favourite place to have a beer?

On the deck at a friend’s cottage.

What’s your favourite travel destination?

Turkey. When I left P&G I went travelling for six months. I started off in Greece and I wasn’t necessarily going to go to Turkey but it was so close and I’m so glad I did – it was phenomenally beautiful and interesting.

If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

I am a Janis Joplin fanatic. I would love to have the opportunity to [spend time with] her.

What’s your favourite movie?

Hands down, Dirty Dancing. I could try to make a more sophisticated choice but I’d only be lying to myself.

Name a marketer you admire.

I think Frito Lay is doing some really interesting work in the user-generation space. A lot of companies dabble in it and abandon it when it doesn’t net the results that they want. You need to be comfortable with what consumers give you and I think Frito Lay is doing a good job of it. I’ve seen a real commitment from them in terms of investing in it and sticking with it, and I think it’s paying off for them.