Molson Canada: Social Media Marketing

Molson Canada

Deborah Compeau, Richard Ivey School of Business and Israr Qureshi, Hong Kong Polytechnic University talk about their case, Molson Canada: Social Media Marketing.

This case describes Molson's experiment with social media for creating brand awareness through a Facebook promotion. The ‘Cold Shots’ campaign involved a photo contest targeting 18-24-year-old college and university students. The failure of this promotion forced Molson to think hard about its strategy vis-à-vis social media.

Why Molson Canada?

We came across a newspaper article about the end of the Molson ‘Cold Shots’ campaign whilst looking for a case for use on our core course in information systems that would help explore the issues involved in managing social media. It seemed like a good fit as the scenario provided an opportunity to combine two essential ingredients of a successful case: an interesting emerging phenomenon; and a famous brand trying to leverage that phenomenon for business activities.


Writing from published sources

We are huge proponents of field-based cases. Going out into the field to gather data is a great way of keeping yourself current on the issues of concern to managers, and doing interviews provides a level of richness in a case that is often difficult to match. However, this case shows the possibility of creating a good case entirely from public sources.

One of the interesting things about writing a case about the use of social media is that there is a lot of information out there in the media that you can draw on to develop the case. We decided to write the case from public sources and draw from corporate responses that were available publicly.

The Molson Canada case generates great discussion in class and students can readily identify with the issue and the challenges of the decision makers even though there is no specific decision maker identified. Perhaps it is the social media context, but it also shows that the key to a good case is in framing the story for the participants so that they can participate in the problem-solving as realistically as possible. If that comes from a field case, great. But it can also come from a public sources case.


Perhaps the biggest challenge for us when writing this case was to remain unbiased. As part of a university ourselves, we were exposed to the concerns of university student groups and university administrators on this issue. We studied published material carefully to understand the motivation of Molson, views of social media experts, and recommendations of social media marketing consultants, in order to present a balanced storyline.

Teaching objectives

The case was written with the objectives of highlighting various social media marketing issues:
  • emerging trends in the use of social media;
  • potholes and landmines when companies that are reliant on traditional media decide to embark on social media for their promotion campaigns;
  • privacy issues in social media based marketing.
The topic area is relevant for all levels of students: undergraduates, MBAs and executives. It generates lively discussion, especially around following themes:
  • Is the failure of ‘Cold Shot’ a failure of social media as marketing tool or is it a failure of the implementation process?
  • What are the privacy concerns for students whose photos were uploaded in the ‘Cold Shot’ contest?
  • Even though the contest was meant for the individual students, why and how did university administrators became party to the dispute? What have you learned from this incident about the potential of social media ‘fire’ flaring beyond the intended ‘territories’?

Using the case

Debbie Compeau: In a fairly standard 80 minute discussion I usually spend about 50-60 minutes on the case itself and then intentionally focus more broadly for the remaining time on what this means for other companies and for technology innovation more generally.

I’ve also used this in a double-class, with the first part of the class (about 40 minutes) used to discuss the case. Then the students are broken up into teams to develop the next campaign, taking into account the learning from the current experience. They work on this for about an hour and then come back to present their proposals. This can be a lot of fun for the students as they get to exercise their creativity.

Israr Qureshi: In a three hour Executive MBA class I use 90 minutes for this case. I divide the class in to five groups: Molson executives; university administrators; students who took part in the contest; students who did not take part in the contest; and consultants who advise Molson on social media. Each group plays a specific role of defending their actions for first 40-45 minutes of the class. The next 35-40 minutes are reserved for open discussion, where each student may share their individual learning from the case. Finally, I sum-up the case, and highlight the implications for innovative use of social media and social media marketing for other organisations.

Molson Canada

Student engagement

Students engage well with this case, the company is interesting to students (who doesn’t enjoy talking about beer?!). As social media is an exciting new technology, and students are often among the more engaged users, they feel confident talking about it. The specific social media campaign featured in the case is one that the undergraduate students in particular can understand because they were part of the target demographic. Even the MBA students relate to it easily. The problems Molson had are interesting to debate because they start to touch on corporate values and ethics, so there’s always a lively discussion of those issues as well.

Additional resources

It’s useful to look at what Molson is doing in social media currently before teaching the case. Their Facebook page gives details of their current campaigns.

The following supplementary materials are useful as optional reading to help students get up to speed if they have not been paying much attention to social media.

  • Firstbrook, P., March 2008. Social networking sites present real business risks and benefits. Gartner Research, ID# G00155663.
  • Roberts, Sherry J., Roach, Terry., 2009. Social networking web sites and human resource personnel: suggestions for job searches. Business Communication Quarterly, Vol. 72 Issue 1, pp.110-114.
  • Mayfield, A., 2008. What is social media. ebook by iCrossing
  • Gartner 2007. Corporate use of social networks requires multilayered security control.
  • Gartner 2007. Three potential pitfalls of Corporate Social Networking.
  • Hemp, P., 2006. Avatar-Based Marketing. Harvard Business Review.
  • Hemp, P., 2006. Are you ready for e-tailing 2.0? Harvard Business Review, Vol. 84, Issue 10.
  • Cook, S., 2008. The Contribution Revolution-Letting Volunteers Build Your Business. Harvard Business Review.
  • Berthon, P., Pitt, L. and Campbell, C., 2008. Ad Lib: When Customers Creates the Ad. California Management Review.
  • Lundy, Drakos, and Mann, 2007. Why Your Enterprise Needs a Corporate Blogging Policy. Gartner Research. 
The following videos are useful to show before the case discussion: 

Case detail

Molson Canada: Social Media Marketing
Deborah Compeau and Israr Qureshi
Ivey Publishing
Ref 9B08A014
Teaching note

Ref 8B08A14
Simplified Chinese language version

Ref 9B08AC14
Spanish language version

Ref 9B08AS14

About the Authors

Deborah Compeau is Professor of Management Information Systems at Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario, Canada. e

Israr Qureshi is Assistant Professor at the Department of Management and Marketing, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. e

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