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Author's profile photo Doug Shirra

Beer and Branded Content | Sponsorship Lessons

I think I know my audience.

I’m confident that you were compelled to open this blog by one of two words: Beer or Content. So, I won’t let you down on either front.

Let’s start with Content because it’s the oil that fuels a brand’s customer experience in today’s social, highly connected world. Companies now recognize that they can’t have enough of it — it’s key to entertaining existing customers and critical to engaging prospects — and it’s needed, in mass quantities, throughout the ‘drunken stumble’ (my words) that used to be known as The Buyer’s Journey.

Marketers have always used third-party sources to develop Content. Now, some creative, savvy marketers are sponsoring end-user sourced content generated by third-parties. Many would consider such a tactic a ‘no brainer’ because of the many benefits it can deliver:

  • the Content can’t/won’t be misaligned with the corporate message;
  • the sponsors brand will directly benefit by being associated with the top brands championed by the customers; and,
  • the organization ‘frees up’ resources ($ and time) by not having to create the Content internally.

While the benefits are clear and exciting, marketers shouldn’t get too carried away…there’s no such thing as a ‘free ride’ in anything — and that would be especially true when slapping your brand on end-user sourced content.

Clearly, before executing such a sponsorship, marketers should carefully contemplate if they are positioning themselves with an audience where the brand message will resonate vs. an audience with which they hope it will resonate.

That can be tough. For example: How do you know, for example, if this person is “your audience?”

Union Local 613.jpg

This is Ivan Getz, co-Owner of an Ottawa, Ontario-based Bar/Restaurant called Union Local 613. As you might now guess, this is where Beer comes into my blog — and where we get a great example of the risk involved in third-party content sponsorship.

The story starts with Air Canada’s En Route Magazine — a glossy publication well-known to frequent travelers as a high-quality lifestyle magazine. For years, En Route’s editorial team has conducted a survey of the Top 100 restaurants across Canada — the list carries a great brand and is followed closely by foodies and business travelers alike.

This year, En Route created the “Top 100 Drinking Spots”. The list was created based on reader feedback. Once underway, the publisher created a Content Sponsorship opportunity for any organization that wanted to be associated with the list.

Recognizing the benefits, Molson-Coors quickly jumped at the opportunity. The list, with the sponsorship, was published in En Route and also launched on a new microsite/website —

Then then unexpected happened: One of the top brands championed by the end users (content providers) — specifically Ivan @ Union Local 613 — protested being on a list sponsorship by Molson-Coors.

The management at Union Local 613 wasn’t playing a PR card…they were generally upset that En Route’s ‘advertorial’ approach mixed their established brand with Molson-Coors. To Union Local 613, the two are opposites and Molson’s goes against the Bar’s identity, code and culture.

You can read the article here ( to get the details.

To summarize:  Union Local 613  self-determined that no branding would be a better outcome than mixed messaging with the sponsors brand. For this reason, the Bar actually had itself removed from the (exclusive) list.

While this isn’t going to inflict any lasting damage to the Molson-Coors brand, it is a good lesson for marketers who are sponsoring third-party content.

What is the lesson?

Know your audience, of course. But, there’s more. In this social world, don’t underestimate smaller brands. don’t ‘assume’ they will passively allow you access to their cherished customers on the backs of their hard-earned brand building efforts.

Addressing this will require a lot of leg-work from marketing — if you are trying to widen your scope and penetrate new audiences, proceed with caution and carefully evaluate if a third-party content sponsorship is the right tool.

I’m just one beer-drinking consumer…but I can tell you that I (still) won’t be buying any Molson Coors product after reading this article, but I will remember to look up Union Local 613 then next time I’m in the Nation’s Capital.


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