Molson faces off against Budweiser on social media over Olympic ads

February 20, 2014  |  Russ Martin

Molson Canadian tweeted a picture on Feb. 10 of a Canadian hockey jersey with the text “We’re all on the same team.” The brand might well have added the unwritten subtext, “Except you, Budweiser.”

Throughout the Winter Olympics, Molson has taken several shots at Budweiser and its marketing, most recently with a text ad addressed to the American men’s hockey team, saying, “Your official sponsor made a giant blimp that lights up when Team Canada scores. Hope that doesn’t get in your head when the puck drops”

The ad refers to Budweiser Canada’s giant flying red light, the blimp created by agencies Anomaly and Mosaic that’s currently flying over Canadian cities and lighting up when Team Canada scores a goal.

Though Budweiser is a the sponsor of Team USA, its Canadian business unit – not an Olympic sponsor – has been aggressively attempting to associate the Budweiser brand with hockey in Canada during the games, a strategy that’s rubbed the COC and Molson – Team Canada’s official beer sponsor – the wrong way.

Forest Kenney, senior manager of corporate affairs for Molson Coors in the Atlantic region, said the brand wants to make it clear that Molson Canadian is the official beer sponsor of Team Canada – not Budweiser Canada. He said Budweiser Canada’s marketing “deliberately confuses consumers to think there is an affiliation,” between the Canadian Olympic team and the brand. “We’re trying to make sure the facts are clear,” he said.

Shared after Canada’s victory over Latvia Wednesday – which pushed the team forward to the semifinal game against the U.S. – Molson’s post had racked up 3,200 likes and more than 4,000 shares on Facebook by Thursday morning.

The post follows a print ad that ran exactly a week ago in The Globe and Mail that posed the question, “Bud, what side are you on?” Quoting a U.S. press release announcing Budweiser’s sponsorship of Team USA through 2016, the ad contrasts Budweiser’s stated support for Team USA with Budweiser Canada’s recent support for Team Canada.

“It’s a bit of a continuation strategy from that [ad],” Kenney said. “You’ve got the official partner of one country celebrating the goals for another as part of their marketing campaign. We’re just trying to point that out,” he said. “We’re just making sure to declare our allegiance to the team we’ve sponsored for a very long time.”

Kenney said the brand is not concerned that the brand is shining a spotlight on a popular marketing initiative from a competitor.

“We take sponsorships very seriously and try to go about them in the right way. We’ve invested a lot of money with our partners and have stayed with them for a long time and we’re really proud of that fact,” he said.

Though the COC has publicly stated it does not accept “ambush marketing” and is considering taking legal action against Budweiser Canada, it did not return calls or e-mails to Marketing regarding whether legal papers have been filed against the brand.

Meanwhile, Budweiser Canada has been live-tweeting Team Canada’s games and has yet to respond to Molson in any way. If you look at its posts, like this photo of a Budweiser branded bus outfitted with a scoreboard or these experiential models holding Red Lights, it’s clear the Canadian brand wants its allegiance known. (Calls to Budweiser Canada had not been returned at time of publishing.)

Bud’s American parent, by contrast, doesn’t seem to care much about hockey at all. Instead, its recent tweets focus on almost every other sport, from Nascar racing to baseball and its FIFA sponsorship.

Throughout the Olympics, Molson’s social media management has been handled by an in-house team with support for creative assets from Rethink as well as consultation on strategy and management from its PR firm, Harbinger. It has been supporting the social ads via a media buy on both Facebook and Twitter handled by MEC.

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