There's only one thing that hockey fans love more than the game itself: beer. Recreational hockey players could keep on playing while the NHL was on strike, but their keen radar for beer-related injustice has never skipped a beat.
It was just such an injustice that inspired Bill McIntyre, a hockey player and VP of public affairs at Grassroots Enterprises, to launch an online campaign to persuade one of the biggest corporations in the beer industry to pay the same respect to US hockey drinkers
as it did to its core Canadian audience.
McIntyre was excited when he first discovered that Labatt Blue, the popular Canadian beer brand, was selling special hockey bags with built-in insulated tubes for keeping beers chilled during the game. But his elation turned to mock outrage when he found that the beer bags were only for sale in Canada, and not in the US.
Then, with his "tongue firmly in cheek," McIntyre set out to spread his outrage throughout the recreational hockey community via the internet and, ultimately, to generate enough public interest - and outcry - to force InBev USA, which sells Labatt in the US, to promote cross-border beer-bag equality. His aim, he says, was nothing less than to "correct an international injustice."
McIntyre enlisted others in his firm to help him, but put in most of the hours for the "Ice Roots" campaign himself.
First, he designed a website (which is available at two domain names: truescrew.com, and beerbagbias.com), drawing on his own expertise as an internet strategist. He outfitted the site with a brief explanation of the "discrimination" issue and a rotating set of 25 different protest letters that users could edit to their satisfaction and then e-mail directly to InBev executives.
The flag-draped site also featured a "news" section, official-looking press releases, and even a podcast on the issue of beer- bag bias. It also allowed visitors to click and e-mail their friends, which helped it spread like (relative) wildfire through the much-feared online US recreational beer-league hockey community.
In an August 5 press release on the website, McIntyre upped the ante by referring to Labatt as "La-bias," and dinging the company's well-cultivated image among ice-bound drunkards by opining, "The Labatt Blue motto is 'Labatt, True Blue.' However, to beer-league hockey players, Labatt's online sales policy is really a 'Labatt, True Screw.'"
Aided only by the website and word of mouth among hockey friends, McIntyre's campaign was a resounding success. Within three days of launching the site, nearly 1,000 irate, patriotic, and possibly drunk Labatt fans had e-mailed and faxed company headquarters about the issue. Recognizing an opportunity to be responsive to customers, end a faux protest, and possibly move into a new market, as well, Labatt granted McIntyre's request to sell the deluxe beer bag less than a week into the campaign.
"They were able to change their policy immediately, but they couldn't get the bags in the US that quickly, so we had to delay [the victory announcement] for a while," McIntyre explains. "In the interim, I was just keeping the boys up, saying 'Hey, we're in negotiations.'"
Today, the website features a thank-you letter to the company, rather than a protest letter. The company sent McIntyre several of the bags, the first of which he auctioned on eBay to raise money for the nonprofit Save Babies Through Screening foundation. Final selling price: $202.50.
The Labatt Blue campaign was a triumph, and both sides walked away happy with the resulting publicity. Next on the agenda for McIntyre is a quest to promote what may become the equivalent of the Jamaican bobsled team for the new millennium: the (proposed) Washington, DC, Olympic curling team. Canada, watch out.
PR team: Grassroots Enterprises (Washington, DC)
Campaign: Beer Bag Bias
Time frame: July to Sept. 2005
Budget: Less than $100