Sapporo - Legendary Biru

Packaged Goods--Beverage (BRONZE)
Best Integrated Program (BRONZE)

Client Credits: Sleeman/Sapporo Canada Ltd
Stephane Duval
Greg Newbrough
Scott Pederson

Agency Credits: Dentsu Canada
Bob Shropshire
Glen Hunt
Jeff McCrory
Les Soos
Dhval Bratt
David Glen
Tim Binkley
Sharon Hill
Andy Manson
Cameron Moffat
Peter Gomes
Sharon Kosokowsky

Crossover Notes:
Crossover Notes: All winning cases contain lessons that cross over from one case to another. David Rutherford has been identifying these as Crossover Notes since CASSIES 1997. The full set for CASSIES 2012 can be downloaded from the Case Library section at

Crossover Note 1. What a Brand Stands For.
Crossover Note 11. The Eureka Insight.
Crossover Note 13. Immediate vs. Long-Term Effect.
Crossover Note 25. Brand Linkage (when should the brand name appear).
Crossover Note 30. Reach and Frequency versus Large-Space Impact.

To see creative, click on the links that are embedded in the case.


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):June 2010 - June 2011
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: June 2010
Base Period as a Benchmark: June 2009 - June 2010

a) Overall Assessment
With a brewing legacy that dates back to 1876, Sapporo is one of Japan’s oldest and most successful beers. It is a world-class product with a remarkably clean, crisp taste that has helped make it one of Japan’s best selling beers. But in Canada, Sapporo was a beer you’d maybe have while eating sushi but never truly consider when just drinking beer. Sapporo had been available in Canada for a number of years but without support it had not gained any true traction in the market.

The Canadian beer industry is one of the most competitive business categories in the world. It is dominated by Labatt/Inbev and Molson/Coors who control almost 90% of sales and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing to support their brands.

Two forces combined to drive a decision to invest behind Sapporo and dive into this incredibly competitive market.

The first is the growth of import beers in Canada. Single digit growth (in a flat market) highlights a trend towards broader choice – a desire for different beers from different parts of the world. Once a relatively closed market dominated by 4 or 5 huge domestic brands, the Canadian beer market now offers one of the most diverse and international selections of beers in the world. Admittedly, huge brands still dominate overall sales but we’re seeing a natural curiosity among Canadian beer drinkers as they seek out different beer experiences.

The second force was the purchase of Sleeman Breweries by Sapporo International in the summer of 2006. Eager to expand outside Japan, one of the factors in the purchase of Sleeman was establishing a North American beachhead for the Sapporo brand. To educate us on the brand, Sapporo International took the team to Japan. We visited the breweries. We met the brewmasters. We learned how the first Japanese brewmasters (having returned from studying in Germany) choose Sapporo as the perfect spot to open Japan’s first brewery because of its access to incredible water and natural ingredients. We came to understand the brand and its truly great brewing legacy. We also drank a few beers (well maybe a bit more than a few) and experienced the rich and vibrant beer culture in Japan.

The team from Canada had years of experience in the beer industry but all this learning on Sapporo was still new to us. We now understood what a special beer this was, but obviously we couldn’t fly average Canadian beer drinkers to Japan to experience the brand the way we had.

We believed there was an opportunity to take advantage of the growth of import beers in Canada, but to support investment Sapporo would need to move beyond sushi restaurants and unlock greater volume and growth opportunities.

We knew the brand had tremendous brewing credentials, tasted great and its Japanese origins made it unique in a crowded market. But we had no consumer research in Canada. To determine the best way to bring the brand to life we needed to better understand what Canadians thought of Japan, beer, and Sapporo specifically.

b) Resulting Business Objectives
- Expand beyond sushi and open Sapporo up to more drinking occasions.

- Establish Sapporo as a legitimate import beer and ultimately enter the same consideration set as Heineken, Stella and Corona.

- Specifically avoid creating a flash-in-the-pan brand. Set Sapporo up for long-term, sustained growth. [Crossover Note 13]

c) Annual Media Budget
$1 - $2 million

d) Geographic Area

a) Analysis and Insight
Strategic research revealed that being a beer from Japan presented enormous opportunities but also a pretty big problem.

For our import beer target (young, urban-centric, males with an individualistic bent) Japan is mysterious and exotic and steeped in tradition, yet remarkably futuristic. All of this combines to make Japan just so different from Canada that they are fascinated by it.

This target is actively choosing a beer that’s different. Yes taste is important, but beer is still a badge product. Success is ultimately determined by the image a beer projects (and the image this allows the drinker to project). Import drinkers want to separate themselves from the crowd. They want to appear more worldly, more unique and ultimately more intriguing than all the guys throwing back Canadian, Budweiser and Coors Light. Being from Japan helped deliver against all of this. Part of the appeal of import beer is their foreignness, and for many Canadians Japan is about a foreign as it gets. The intrigue and mystery of Japan was a very attractive base image proposition for Sapporo.

The imagery associated with Japan was also extremely powerful. It tends to be somewhat stereotypical given that not many Canadians have travelled to Japan, but the thought of Samurais and Geishas and Sumos and Zen gardens and robots and the neon of Tokyo were all very powerful.

Through discussions with the target we began to understand there was great appeal in the paradox of the ancient and modern that is Japan -- a perfect Zen garden in the heart of bustling Tokyo, or the tradition of the tea ceremony juxtaposed against futuristic industrial design.

The ancient aspect and imagery (Samurais, Geishas, etc) communicated a sense of tradition, honour, and discipline – all masculine values that are powerful building blocks for a beer brand. They also translated into an overall belief that in Japan there is a heightened dedication to perfection. Attention to detail and craft (passed down from generation to generation) – again a great building block for a beer brand – particularly an import brand.

The modern imagery appealed to the target’s belief that the future is bright, anything is possible. And at a much simpler level it was aspirational in terms of partying (yes this is still the beer category). They saw themselves partying in Tokyo one day and it would be awesome.

Combined, it delivered a perfect storm for building a beer brand -- deep-rooted masculine values that link to product quality, along with intrigue and mystery that appeal to the target’s image needs.

All this learning confirmed that Sapporo’s Japanese origins presented a tremendous opportunity in Canada; there was just one problem… Canadians think of sake not beer when they think of Japan.

This was ultimately our key insight on Sapporo. [Crossover Note 11] It helped frame up the challenge on the brand and focused us on what the most effective solutions needed to deliver. As intriguing and mysterious and cool as Japan itself was – beer was not something Canadians associated with it. “Do they even drink beer in Japan?” was a question that came up numerous times in our research.

We assembled our communication strategy to bridge this gap. We would find a way to present Sapporo as representing both the best of Japan and the best of beer. [Crossover Note 1]

b) Communication Strategy
Our challenge was to transfer all the intrigue and appeal for Japan as a country and culture into intrigue and interest for Sapporo – the beer from Japan.

It is extremely easy to get lost in all the incredible raw creative material that arises from Japanese culture, but this could not become a tourism piece for Japan.

Our goal was to leverage the intrigue and mystery of Japan while tying back to Sapporo as a credible premium beer.

a) Media Used
- A viral video
- TV
- Website
- Interactive street events
- A very cool tap handle

b) Creative Discussion
To solve the challenge we brought Sapporo’s brewing credentials to life – but in a completely unique and entertaining way. We produced an epic 2-minute video where Samurais, Taiko Drummers, Geishas, Sumo Wrestlers and even Dragons all play a role in creating the beer as we journey through a Legendary Sapporo Brewery. It is a journey through time as well as Sapporo’s brewing process. [Crossover Note 25]

The work was the culmination of over two years of strategic research, creative development and production. The video and on-line elements utilized an innovative combination of live-action, green-screen, mat painting and computer animation to create a depth and scope of experience that was far beyond most beer advertising.

We were able to deliver a sense of heritage and tradition that worked to establish Sapporo’s brewing credentials. Despite the fact the imagery is obviously fictional (there are no dragons at the brewery) all the desired attributes and values are still strongly communicated. The true power of the campaign may be that it’s unlike anything Canadians have ever seen in beer advertising. It’s Japanese and premium and original and powerful. It defines Sapporo as the Legendary Biru.

The 2-minute video acts as the grounding element of the campaign and was originally released on Youtube and seeded with prominent bloggers. The video quickly took off and to date has appeared in over 25,000 individual blogs or tweets or posts and generated over 2,800,000 views (and counting) on-line - making it one of Canada’s most successful “viral” ads.

We also built a website ( where consumers could explore the brewery in greater detail. By collecting scrolls they learned more about Sapporo’s brewing process and had a chance to win a trip to Japan. A 60 second TV spot as well as a series of 15-second spots – all pulled from the 2-minute piece – aired on targeted TV programming.

We ran street events with new mapping technology (think X-Box Kinect) that transformed people’s shadows into a Samurai or Geisha or Sumo, and projected this onto huge walls in urban centers across Canada. The shadow character moved exactly as they did, allowing them to become the character. The events attracted great crowds and each experience was videotaped and made available for sharing on Facebook.

The campaign was rounded out by bringing Sapporo to life in bars – the most powerful piece being the creation of a new tap handle that mimicked a Samurai’s katana.

c) Media Discussion
The backbone of the campaign was the 2-minute video. On the surface, this is a cost-prohibitive and (as it was once described) crazy execution to work with from a media perspective. [Crossover Note 30] Many teams (and clients) may have abandoned the project based on this, but we found a way to deal with it. We designed the entire campaign and media components to deliver more for less, while not sacrificing the overall impact of the creative.

We used Youtube and bloggers to spread the 2-minute video on-line. There is currently a lot of talk about “going viral” – this video is one of the few examples of truly delivering against this. We started the ball rolling by engaging key bloggers, but it quickly became consumer driven as people found and shared the ad.

We also pulled a 60 second version for TV. This "shorter" spot still delivered incredible breakthrough and we concentrated airings on high-profile programming such as the NHL Playoffs and the World Cup.

We used 15-second spots to balance the cost of airing the :60 and ensure the overall TV buy was as efficient as possible. The 15 second spots drove to the website where you could see the full 2-minute piece and explore the mythical brewery in greater detail.

We used street events in high-traffic urban areas that over-indexed against our target and gave people a chance to interact with the brand on a more personal level. We ran co-promotions with bars in the area of these events to help drive trial.

We considered in-bar one of the most important media channels for the brand and while POS is often an afterthought on other brands, we developed a full suite of innovative POS, and overinvested in the new tap handle to help drive trial and exposure.

We considered every touch-point a part of the media plan. Some of this involved traditional media, much of it was non-traditional, but all of it combined to drive incredible results.

a) Sales/Share Results
For the 12 month period since the launch in June 2010 Sapporo sales are up 62% nationally. This has made Sapporo one of Canada's fastest growing beers and made Canada Sapporo's most successful international market.

Sapporo added 275 new accounts, including Jack Astor's, Joey's in the West, and several retail chains in Quebec. Moving beyond sushi was a critical objective for long-term growth and we've delivered well above plan projections.

Sapporo draft sales are up over 25% in existing accounts so the growth isn't just new distribution - it's overall increased consumer demand and pull.

The 2-minute ad has generated over 2,800,000 views on-line (and we continue to see growth even now - over a year after the video was posted) making it one of Canada's most successful viral ads.

Ad awareness on Sapporo more than doubled and overall brand awareness increased over 30%.

All desired image and product brand attributes for Sapporo (quality beer, intriguing, authentic, etc.) increased significantly behind the campaign.

Finally, the success in Canada has led to the adaptation of elements of the Legendary Biru campaign for other Sapporo international markets including Malaysia, Viet Nam, the U.S. and England.

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

a) General Discussion
The Legendary Biru campaign moved all metrics on the brand - not just sales. There is no other explaination for the dramatic and widespread increases across all metrics than the marketing investment put behind the brand.

Importantly, we delivered these results while spending a fraction of what our competitors spent. The investment behind Sapporo was approximately 1/5 to 1/8 what major import brands spend in Canada and 1/10 to 1/25th what the largest beer brands spend.

Strategic legwork, defining the problem with clarity, breaking pretty much all the rules of beer marketing, being flexible and smart with media, delivering against "going viral" and the complete commitment of the Sleeman/Sapporo sales and marketing team; all this was needed to develop the Legendary Biru campaign.

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels: Increased VYA ago but delivered massive results.

Pricing: Sapporo did not engage in additional pricing activity vs. the previous period so the results were not the caused by discounting (our goal is to establish a premium brand).

Distribution Changes: Increased VYA but, as covered above, the support behind the brand was what unlocked this new distribution.

Unusual Promotional Activity: Any additional promotional activity was part of the marketing support plan that helped unlock the tremendous growth.

Other Potential Causes: Sapporo had been available in Canada and remained consistently flat before this support so there was no underlying growth momentum that could account for the results.