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Sex Sells, With a Wink and a Nudge

At a time when advertising for mainstream beer brands aimed at younger men celebrates women who wrestle or were born as twins, a smaller, imported brew is hoping a print campaign with a more light-hearted approach to the battle of the sexes will help stimulate sales.

The campaign, for Molson Canadian, sold by Molson USA, will appear in May issues of four men's magazines and one women's magazine. The ads cleverly send up the conventions of how beer is advertised differently to men and women while at the same time seeking to capitalize on those ploys.

The campaign is part of an ambitious effort to remake the Molson Canadian image among male beer drinkers ages 21 to 29, and it carries the theme "Let your Molson do the talking." It is the brainchild of Crispin, Porter & Bogusky in Miami, the hot creative agency known for rule-breaking work for advertisers like Ikea, Mini Cooper and the American Legacy Foundation (the "Truth" anti-smoking ads, produced with Arnold Worldwide in Boston.).

Crispin, Porter was awarded the Molson USA account, with billings estimated at $10 million, in April 2002, and six months later had the company bring out Molson Canadian (and Canadian Light) in bottles bearing "twin labels" a conventional one on the front and a fanciful one on the back. The back labels, initially in 84 varieties that have now climbed to more than 225, proclaim sentiments that range from "I'm not wearing underwear" and "One-man bachelorette party" to "I put the super in superficial" and "Can I get your number?" The wacky packaging is promoted in television commercials.

The premise of "Let your Molson do the talking" is that if imported beers are -- as beer drinkers have been assured for decades by brewers and the agencies that work for them -- lifestyle products that say something about who buys them, then Molson Canadian will now speak up on behalf of the buyer on the subject he likely considers the most important in his life: Topic A, as Preston Sturges calls it in the screwball comedy "The Palm Beach Story," otherwise known as sex.

The campaign is indicative of what is known as postmodern advertising, which presents consumers with ads that acknowledge they are ads, ads that sell with a wink and a nudge, ads that reference the ways ads try to peddle products. Such tactics are particularly popular among advertisers targeting younger consumers, who are deemed more skeptical about marketing, and more educated consumers, who have presumably read books like "The Hidden Persuaders" or "No Logos."

"This approach is different," says Steve Breen, vice president for marketing in Golden, Colo., for Molson USA, a joint venture of the Canadian brewer Molson Inc. and the Adolph Coors Company.

"It appeals to the import drinker," he adds, "who has been to college, has got a job, is earning decent money, is a little more mature."

For all that, the import drinker shares at least one interest with his less-educated, less-affluent, less-mature counterpart.

"In talking to consumers to see how we could make Molson Canadian relevant to the young adult drinker," Mr. Breen says, "the key thing they kept feeding back to us was: 'We're in bars to meet women. Anything that helps us connect is great.' So we can become relevant by helping them interact."

Yes, but it has to be in a way different from Miller Lite beer, brewed by SABMiller, which has come under fire for a commercial that features the wrestling women, or Coors Light beer, sold by the Coors Brewing Company division of Coors, which is also feeling some heat for spots that star sultry twins.

So in the Molson Canadian commercial promoting the twin-label bottles, as two actors playing friends talk at a bar, one of them suddenly turns to look into the camera before delivering his next line. He breaks the fourth wall with viewers as if to say, "Yes, I know I'm in a commercial, and I know you know, too."

That attitude is even more ardently embraced in the print ads. The ad appearing in the women's magazine, Cosmopolitan, presents male drinkers of Molson Canadian as hunky yet sensitive, studly yet caring. It is a tongue-in-cheek version of how male beer drinkers see themselves and how brewers see them. There is a photograph of a buff blond in winter gear, cradling two puppies as he holds a bottle of Molson Canadian, turned to the camera so the brand logo on the front label is readable.

There is text under the photograph. "His address: the intersection of confidence and compassion. His beer: Molson Canadian." The Cosmopolitan readers will be directed to a Web site where additional photos and a biography of the hottie will be available soon.

The ad appearing in the men's magazines -- FHM, Gear, Playboy and Ramp -- informs readers about the "hundreds of thousands of women" seeing the Cosmopolitan ad and describes how they may take advantage of that.

The Cosmopolitan ad, the readers of the men's magazines are told, "is a perfectly tuned combination of words and images designed by trained professionals. Women who are exposed to it experience a very positive feeling. A feeling which they will later project directly onto you. Triggering the process is as simple as ordering a Molson Canadian."

"That's not just a crisp, clean import from Canada you're tasting," the men's ad concludes in a mock triumphant tone. "It's victory, my friend." The readers of the men's magazines will also be directed to a Web site where they will soon find downloadable, wallet-sized versions of the photos of the puppies, suitable for starting or continuing bar conversations, as well as other helpful ways Molson Canadian proves that "no other beer works as hard for you."

"Can other beers do that? I think not," says Bill Wright, vice president and associate creative director at Crispin, Porter, echoing the tone of the campaign. "While other beers do funny commercials, we're actually doing something to give our consumer the tools to connect with women in social situations and at great expense, I might add."

Turning somewhat more serious, Mr. Wright observes: "Every beer is a badge, meant to say something about you. You're paying that beer a big compliment, because you're going to be holding up that badge for the next 30 minutes, and you don't let your fingers cover up the label."

"That was our original insight," he adds, "that this brand is such a badge, and you demonstrate that every time you order it."

Before Crispin, Porter, Molson Canadian was "the beer for free-spirited wilderness adventurers," Mr. Wright says, laughing, referring to previous ads. "When we got it, it was pretty moribund. Now we want it to stand for something."

Sales of Molson Canadian have increased 30 percent in the six months since the bottles started to be sold with the twin labels. Mr. Breen describes it as "the fastest-growing import" among the top 25 imported beers.

Additional ways to demonstrate how the beer can "do the talking" are being considered. Mr. Wright says he would like to try radio commercials similar to the print ads because the idea can work "anywhere you can segment the media, and radio segments listeners very well."

"We could have one commercial on a 'Lite FM'-type station," he adds, laughing, "and another on a heavy-metal station."

Posted on aef.com: April 11, 2003

 

Stuart Elliott, Stuart Elliott’s In Advertising Newsletter

Copyright © 2003 The New York Times. All rights reserved.

 

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