Beer battle brews

In Features /

By Chieu Luu Luong

Whenever Lina Ierullo’s cell phone rings, her heart beats a little faster an a bit of adrenaline pumps through her veins.

It’s not that this second-year graduate journalism student doesn’t have anything better to get work up about, but Ierullo is on the verge of winning tickets to a free concert or movie premiere.

She’s one of the 15,000 Ontarians who found a cell phone or pager in a case of Labatt Blue this summer. The advertising ploy is just one of the latest in a high-stakes war for university-aged drinkers. And while there are many soldiers on the battlefield, the real war is between Labatt Breweries and Molson Inc.

One reason the two beer companies are going after young people so hard is that they drink a disproportionately large amount of alcohol.

“This is the age where people start making their brand choices and we want them to keep us in mind when they’re making those choices,” said Bob Chant, director of public relations for Labatt.

Those who snatched up cell phones and pagers in Labatt’s “Blue Line” campaign were given two months of free service. Every now and then, Labatt sends them messages to tell them they’ve won prizes such as tickets to concerts and special discounts. It’s the first Canadian beer company to use cell phones and pagers as advertising tools.

Chant says the campaign aims to get people to associate Labatt Blue with spontaneity and to build on the company’s wildly successful “Out of the Blue” ads, which started last year.

But giving away cell phones and tickets doesn’t ensure Labatt will sell more beer. While Labatt had a strong presence at Ryerson during frosh week, Joanne Loton, a bartender at the Ram in the Rye, says the beer of choice for most students is Labatt Blue’s direct competitor, Molson Canadian.

“I think it’s the one beer that pops into people’s minds when they come in,” she said.

That’s the result of Molson Canadian’s “I am Canadian” ad campaign, which features a guy named Joe ranting about how proud he is to be Canadian. “The Rant,” as the commercial came to be known, has helped Molson establish its name in Canadians’ mind.

And while both Labatt and Molson believe wooing young people is integral to their success, other companies such as Guelph-based Sleeman Breweries have no intention of joining the battle.

Paul Brennan, Sleeman’s director of marketing, says Molson and Labatt spend so much on their youth marketing campaigns, it simply can’t compete with them.

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