Stella Artois doubles down on its support for local restaurants

The beer brand expects the sector to need help "well beyond the pandemic," so it's taking the long view with its latest support program.

Stella, Love Artois

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When asked how his company is approaching the future when vaccines reach a growing number of Canadians but many pandemic restrictions remain stubbornly in place, Labatt’s Mike Bascom says the team at Stella Artois has been thinking a lot more about “acts, not ads,” an approach that’s growing popular among marketers.

“Everything that we are doing, we are trying to do in a way that is helping,” the brand’s Canadian marketing director says. “People need help more than ever before and we as a brand have an opportunity to be able to do that.”

It’s a strategy that could very well be lifted from the brewer’s early pandemic playbook, when companies of all stripes rushed to help employees, customers and local businesses, often pausing their planned marketing efforts to lend a helping hand. And it’s one that remains as relevant today as it was three pandemic waves ago, according to Bascom, particularly when it comes to its efforts to support the country’s food service industry.

This explains why the brewer expanded its “Rally for Restaurants” program last month, launching a “Love Artois” campaign encouraging Canadians to support the restaurant industry by posting positive reviews for their favourite restaurants online.

Launched in April last year, “Rally for Restaurants” aimed to provide financial relief to the sector by getting restaurant-goers to purchase a gift card for their favourite watering hole. As another incentive, the beer brand added $10 in value to every card purchased, helping direct even more funds to local businesses.

One year later, the effort has generated nearly $1 million through the sale of more than 20,000 gift certificates for roughly 1,200 participating restaurants. Metrics measuring Stella’s association with food and salience during the meal occasion have also been positively impacted by the effort, says Bascom. “People are eager to participate in activities and actions like this. That sparked us to ideate and create something new to continue this conversation.”

With “Love Artois,” the brand is now asking Canadians for a different kind of support – positive reviews, the lifeblood of many establishments that also happen to sell a lot of suds.

The idea is based on the insight that a majority of Canadian consumers either turn to online reviews when considering a new restaurant or ask friends for their recommendations. But as research shows that only a small percentage of those same Canadians actually leave reviews of their own, the brand felt it could play a role by encouraging them to do just that, Bascom says.

To help spread the love, Stella has been using some of the reviews in digital ads and OOH placements across major Canadian markets. To date, consumers have posted more than 1,200 reviews, allowing more than 50 different restaurants to be highlighted in the ads.

Whereas “Rally for Restaurants” launched globally across ten different countries, “Love Artois” was developed entirely by the Canadian team, though Bascom anticipates the campaign will be picked up by other markets where similar insights are relevant.

Both the original program and its extension are intended to “exist well beyond the pandemic,” he says, adding that bars and restaurants are going to continue to need support well beyond the immediate crisis and economic shutdown.

As for the brand, it’s a case of a “rising tide [lifts] all boats,” says Bascom. Like most brewers, Labatt relies heavily on bars and restaurants to drive sales. The channel is even more important for Stella Artois, which over-indexes in on-trade sales, according to the marketer.

“So it’s a very natural connection,” he says. “We’ve had a longstanding relationship with bars and restaurants across the country, and we want to do everything we can to help them get through this. We all benefit if we can save and support as many restaurants as possible.”