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Brewer’s marketing campaign has run-in with Toronto police

Coors Light and Molson Canadian bottles.

ED ANDRIESKI/AP

Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.

Every marketer wants a campaign to attract buzz, but when that comes in the form of a call to police, something has gone wrong.

On Monday, Molson Coors Canada was forced to apologize and to end a promotion weeks early after an item in a scavenger hunt was mistaken for a suspicious package.

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The social media promotion, called "Search+Rescue," launched last week and was meant to continue through July. The company placed boxes in public places across Canada and posted their locations on an online map. People who found the boxes could win prizes once they shared their experience on Twitter.

However, a box spotted in downtown Toronto caused concern for at least one passerby, and a call to the authorities caused traffic and public transit delays while it was investigated.

"This part of the campaign ended on a bit of a low note, unfortunately," said Molson Coors spokesperson Forest Kenney.

The snafu illustrates the difficulty marketers face in vying for people's increasingly divided attention. With constant updates from friends on social media, advertisers are turning more often to what is known as "experiential" marketing. The idea is to create real-life experiences that people will talk about – the kind of genuine conversation that is much more valuable than an ad.

"At first, we put more than a hundred boxes out, and thought it might take a little while for people to find them, but they responded really quickly," Mr. Kenney said. "That carried over to social media."

Before the campaign began, Mr. Kenney says the company contacted fire and police departments to let them know that the boxes would be showing up. There was confusion on Monday, however, when a box was placed on a hand railing along the streetcar line near Queen and Dundas streets. The company had deliberately avoided places such as transit corridors because of the risk that they could be perceived as a threat rather than a marketing project. Mr. Kenney could not explain how a box ended up in a busy transit area in Toronto.

Ad agency Leo Burnett worked with Molson Coors on the campaign.

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Coors Light had intended to distribute 880 boxes across the country all this month, but has now cancelled the program after about half of those were distributed. The company says there will be a second phase to the campaign, which will take place in bars and restaurants, using the remainder – more than 400 boxes. It has not yet announced details.

"Experiential" advertising often takes the form of pranks that advertisers play on unsuspecting people to get a reaction – and record them in videos they hope will attract viewers online. It's a trend that Toronto ad agency John St. recently made fun of in a parody video.

The Coors campaign was not intended as a prank, but shows how tricky it can be to successfully pull off experiential campaigns on a grand scale.

"People were responding so well to it," Mr. Kenney said.

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