Molson celebrates (and commiserates) with hockey fans

The brand is continuing to "reclaim its identity" by letting the country know it is the beer of Canada's game.

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While the NHL season is starting three months later than it usually does, Molson Canadian thinks now is the time to get back into the hearts of Canadian hockey fans.

“In the past few years we haven’t had much direct hockey content, we really have been focused on a journey of telling our story,” explains Joy Ghosh, senior brand director for North America and global at Molson. That story has been comprised of getting closer to the brand’s Canadian roots, but now, he says, it feels natural to continue the “narrative of reclaiming our identity as Canada’s beer” by also getting back to Canada’s sport, once a pillar of its marketing.

The campaign includes two English-language spots for Molson Canadian titled “It’s Complicated” that showcase the challenges of being a hockey fan in Canada, where Stanley Cup victories are hard to come by and fan allegiances can cause conflict with friends and family.

Meanwhile, a throwback specific to Quebec for Molson Export focuses on the passion of Montreal Canadiens fans and taps into nostalgia by updating the classic jingle “Salut les vrais!” and its anglophone equivalent.

This time last year, Molson Canadian extended its partnership as the official beer of the NHL, sponsorship activity it has done since 2011. In December, it re-upped its partnership with the Montreal Canadiens, re-establishing Export as the team’s official beer.

The goal of the campaign is to re-establish Molson Canadian as both “the beer of Canada and the beer of hockey,” Ghosh says, which begun with efforts like this past summer’s “Canadian Case” but also harkens back to older campaigns like “I Am Canadian” in the 90s.

“People continue to be surprised that the number one beer in Canada isn’t a Canadian beer, and that means the number one beer sold during the hockey season isn’t a Canadian beer,” he explains, indirectly referring to Budweiser. The spots drive that home, expressly calling out that Molson Canadian is not the official beer of baseball or America, but focused enthusiastically on its Canadian core. “We think while watching Canada’s sport, it’s important to allow people to pick a Canadian beer – ideally a Molson Canadian, but we’re open – to celebrate Canada’s game.”

Timing is everything, and Molson has selected a shortened NHL season with a Canada-exclusive North division as the right time for this campaign because “it’s an interesting, complex and challenging time,” Ghosh says, where people really want to connect with their passion points.

The campaign also comes as Molson faces stiff competition not only from traditional rival Budweiser – which has long pushed an association with hockey as part of a broader sports strategy, despite Molson being the official beer of the NHL – but also from a wider range of craft brewers and even other categories, including seltzers and vodka sodas.

“Molson is a well-known, well-distributed and established brand. But especially with younger drinkers, we need to grow in relevance and give them a reason to pick us,” Ghosh explains. “It felt important more than ever to be super clear on our brand identity and what we stand for.”

Hockey is a good entry point for Molson to establish its place in the repertoire of brands consumers might choose, he adds, because of its relevance with Canadians across every demographic.

The new ads will air on TV during the season, focused on game nights featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens, teams with which Molson has partnerships on top of its one with the league. The campaign also includes digital, social, out-of-home and radio elements, as well as a partnership with sports website Barstool Sports.

The creative agency for the new campaign is long-time Molson partner Rethink. Wavemaker is handling media and Citizen is handling the PR.