Breathing new life into Molson Export
Beer marketing can mean big bucks for advertising community

The word "beer" is as popular in the advertising community as it is in fraternity houses. Although advertisers, when they hear the word, are thinking about dollars, not parties.

Here in Montreal, just one television commercial, such as the new Molson Export spot produced this month -- as part of the continuing "young, since 1903," campaign -- can create temporary assignments for more than a hundred actors, directors, film editors, agency personnel and post-production people.

The commercial -- produced by Cossette Communication Group Inc., Molson Inc.'s agency of record for the Export brand in Quebec -- is part of a series, that tell short universal stories, re-shot in several time periods, with the characters re-attired in the clothing of the day.

As the commercial runs, characters -- such as a group of fans watching a hockey game, or a bunch of youngsters at a party -- morph from one era to the next, always with a Molson Export beer around -- evoking the brand's almost 100 year history.

"The Export brand is currently seeing a significant turnaround as a result of the new marketing," said John Bailey, vice-president (marketing, Quebec). "Market share is up, our franchise (the number of people claiming a brand as their number one choice) is up, and profits are up."

Molson Export had experienced a more than decade-long decline, and was increasingly seen by its target market as "the beer your father used to drink."

The brand, in a sense, became a beneficiary an overall plan by Molson Inc. to reduce advertising dollars spent, and to concentrate them on several key brands such as Canadian and Dry in the rest of Canada, as well as Export and Dry here in Quebec. Expenditures on other lagging brands like O'Keefe and Laurentide were curtailed.

"The idea was to decrease the average age of Export drinkers, by focusing on the key 18-24 demographic," said Bailey. This, while at the same time emphasizing the tradition behind the oldest major beer brand in the Quebec market.

The latest spot, features three young men in a nightclub, arranging a 10 cent bet about whether our hero, has the guts to introduce himself to a beautiful girl at the end of the bar.

As the protagonist walks across the room, his clothes and hairstyle change as he passes through the decades of Export's existence as a brand. When he finally reaches the heroine, his buddy pays the bet -- now ten dollars instead of 10 cents, since inflation has taken his toll as our hero walked through generations.

The newest ad, as with the others in the series, is surprisingly effective. Unlike most commercials, the Export ad tells a story, albeit a simple one, something that in general increases the viewer's stake in the commercial, and his retention as well.

The spots, which were produced in both French and English, employ humor -- something always popular with Quebec viewers. They also manage to illustrate the plot in a visually stimulating fashion, that employs sophisticated special effects, not just for their own sake, but for a reason: to morph a characters from being say groovy seventies studs, to groovy eighties studs.

But to be effective, beer commercials have to stand out. Competition in the industry is fierce. The market for domestically manufactured beer has been stagnant for more than a decade, as an aging population, conscious of the health costs of alcohol consumption, and of mixing drinking and driving, are reducing purchases, and migrating from beer to wine, and other products.

Making matters worse for the brewers, the vast majority of the population can't tell one beer brand from the other, and so brewery production people have great difficulty in coming up with differentiated product offerings.

The fewer the facts, the hotter the argument, and since beer marketers have little to say about their products' actual attributes, the war is played out in the brewer's marketing departments, where image and brand identity take over.

Advertising and promotion agencies are the big winners. Breweries and related industries spend more than $125 million a year on ads, and a bucket more on production and promotion. Budgets are far more generous than in almost any other industry as the different brands struggle to get heard above the media clatter.

It's hard to verify Molson's claims about Export's success. Breweries often have an interest in generating the perception that particular brands are "hot." They thus jealously guard statistics regarding individual brands, and those released to the media and analysts are often done so verbally, and statistics are usually not independently verified.

Said one analyst who follows the company: "Quebec is a tough market and I can't tell you whether the Export brand is gaining market share. But the company's internal re-organization, and substantial effort to streamline costs -- when in the past they have only talked about it -- should help, in terms of long term profitability."


Photo caption: As part of the camapign to turn around the Export brand, Molson updated its packaging and visual identity, while keeping the look and feel of the original, shown here.


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