Why a Peroni campaign was swapped for Grolsch in 24 hours

When the Italian beer's campaign hit a snag due to COVID-19, Smaller Agency used existing shots and a new brand positioning to craft more appropriate ads.


Italian beer brand Peroni is typically positioned as a suave offering for young urbanites, but new creative meant to air in Quebec and Ontario this spring featured Italians cavorting on patios and other public spaces – scenes that would seem highly questionable during the COVID-19 outbreak, which hit Italy particularly hard and has people around the world distancing themselves from each other.

Parent company Asahi Canada worked quickly with Smaller Agency, which had adapted the global Peroni campaign from Wunderman Thompson London, to swap out the creative with new work for its Grolsch brand. The 15- and 30-second spots were compiled and swapped out within 24 hours, utilizing a suite of pour shots Smaller Agency already had that were edited into brand sells highlighting Grolsch beer’s “double brewing” method. Working with its vendors and partners, the Peroni media was pushed out to later in the year.

“Peroni is a very stylish brand, and all the global creative we got was unique and specific to Italy and coming together in social gatherings, and we knew we couldn’t use anything like that,” says Smaller Agency founder and CEO Noah Barlow.

While the Grolsch spots are simple, and focus on a brewing process that could sound “gimmicky,” the brand has Dutch data to bolster the claims that double malting improves the brewing process and flavour profile. The brewer was already looking to leverage those liquid credentials in a new “double the brew, double the flavour” positioning that focused more on product quality than drinking occassions, and Barlow says the agency was “luckily” able to focus on that brewing technique and point of differentiation, without showing scenes of bars or other social gatherings.

Heineken is a well-known brand, and its older, 400-year-old Dutch competitor Grolsch doesn’t have as much name recognition, which Barlow attributes to Heineken’s massive ad spend. This is the first time Grolsch has been on air TV in Canada in “a couple of years,” he says, and the brand plans to get back into bigger media buys. The beer is no longer a partner with TIFF, putting the focus on its new messaging and packaging. According to Barlow, the campaign’s target of younger, legal-aged adults hasn’t shifted, and is similar to what it would’ve been prior to the pandemic.

The pandemic has had an impact across the beer category, which has been highly reliant on social gatherings ranging from sporting events and music festivals to bars and private parties. Some brands have tried to adapt to that  hosting virtual meetups among its consumers to keep them connected with both friends and their brands. Barlow says its clients in the industry have been shifting dollars from OOH and other above-the-line media into package design and getting new products into market. That can take a longer time, but that means that when this is over, “we can have products on shelf and ready-to-go.” Grolsch also plans to have new packaging in market shortly, though that is being handled by a different agency, Barlow says.

Barlow says beverage and alcohol have been clawing back marketing in the short term are going to take a “big hit during this period.” According to Beer Canada’s annual report on the industry, beer sales continued their downward trend in 2019, with imported suds sales slipping 1.5%, though that was not as much as the 3% slide domestic brands experienced.