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Fall 1999: Molson Offers Devoted Audience More Than Just a Virtual Brewski

Canada's most popular beer has now spawned that nation's most active and robust online community.

Molson Breweries, founded in 1786, is Canada's largest brewer with more than $2 billion in annual sales and over 3,800 employees. It's also North America's oldest beer brand name.

Molson launched its Web site ( in 1995. CyberSight (, an interactive consultancy agency, created the site for Molson.

According to Sandy Wills, Molson's manager of emerging market technology, the site's original goal was to foster brand awareness by creating an online community of Canadian beer drinkers that could share ideas and stories.

"The objective was analogous to people getting together in a real bar," Wills said. "We wanted people to form friendships online and socialize on a regular basis."

Molson's marketing strategy has exceeded their expectations and has evolved into more than just online brand positioning. Wills said it has become more 'field-focused' in order to attract appropriate traffic and increase brand loyalty.

Four years after the site's introduction there are now 40,000 registered 'Molsonites,' as they call each other, most of them males between the ages of 19 and 24. Although the majority is Canadian, members come from more than two dozen nations worldwide, including Australia, Iceland, Japan, Norway and Sweden.

Molsonites earn their moniker by first creating a personal profile. This gains them access to a wide variety of special Molson events both online and offline. They can send e-mail to other members and participate in various sports pools.

The home page is divided into what Wills refers to as 'three zones of sociability' - Sports, Party and Beer. In the Sports section viewers can send digital postcards. Open Ice provides the latest National Hockey League (NHL) news. Local Heroes is a community-based program providing funding to individuals of legal drinking age to revamp or revitalize existing adult recreational facilities in Canada.

The Party area features a Pub Chat, Icebreaker (online matchmaking) and one of the site's most popular features, Bathroom Wall, where visitors can scrawl their wisdom and experience on a virtual bathroom wall.

Click on Beer and you can learn about the history of Molson, query the company's brew masters and even receive a free Molson Breweries Virtual Brewery Tour CD-ROM by filling out a brief application.

The site features an easy-to-use scroll down menu and adjacent navigational task bar. The menu offers comprehensive corporate and investor relations information in both English and French. The navigational task bar is divided into five categories - What's News, Feedback, Profiles, Calendar and Your Mail.

Although Molson declined to provide specific traffic and page view statistics, citing them as proprietary, Wills said that during hockey season, the hockey pool averages about 6,500-member sessions daily. Typically the highest number of sessions is on Monday, when members check in to see how they fared in the hockey pool over the weekend.

The hockey pool is very popular," said Dawna Henderson, general manager of CyberSight Canada. "It has grown to 400 leagues and 4,500 members. We have an online commissioner and offer a variety of prizes including Molson T-shirts and mousepads. This year's grand prize was a set of golf clubs."

While Molson does sell merchandise online, its e-commerce efforts to date are currently targeted only to Ontario, Canada residents, who can purchase Molson buttons, towels and T-shirts.

Although Molson doesn't utilize banner ads, the company did form a partnership with the 3web Network, a Canadian portal, and the University of Calgary. Molson sponsored the distribution of 15,000 3web installation CDs to the university. The university receives free Internet and e-mail access. Molson gets to serve as an anchor advertiser on the university edition of the 3web Network. And because of the 3web portal's ability to serve ads to specific demographic profiles, all Molson Canadian ads will be visible only to 3web users of legal drinking age.

Molson's site has attracted a solid core of devoted, if not fanatical members. Wills said three members have gotten married who initially met on the site and a fourth member recently proposed to his online sweetie.

Our members have carved out their own unique space on the site," Wills said. "It has truly become an interactive community of Canadian beer drinkers."

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