Molson Sent Two Guys and A Beer Fridge to Indonesia To Surprise A Friend. Here's How.

Molson's Beer Fridge is back. This time it's on a more personal and far-flung journey.

One of the challenges with creating a great stunt ad is figure out what to do as an encore. Molson Canadian faced this dilemma when following up its very popular "Beer Fridge," which saw the beer brand travel around Europe with a red fridge that would only open with a Canadian passport. The stunt made international headlines and, until WestJet launched its tear-jerking Christmas opus, it was the most viewed commercial of the year in Canada. A very tough act to follow.

Now the Beer Fridge is back. This time, however, the beer run is far more personal and considerably more ambitious. "The Beer Fridge—Project Indonesia" is about three real-life friends—one living in the remote Gili Islands in Indonesia, and two bringing their buddy a fridge stacked with frosty brews all the way from Canada, so that he can watch the upcoming Olympics in true Canadian fashion. It’s touching, fits with Molson’s revived "I Am Canadian" positioning, and looks like it was a total nightmare to pull off. Which it was, but with a wonderful payoff.

In the 2:45 version of the spot, Ryan and Phil from Ottawa go to extreme lengths to bring a fridge full of Canadians (the beers, as they’re colloquially known) to Morgan, who’s living in a hut on a beach, giving him the surprise of a lifetime. After following the guys as they haul, often by hand, the large appliance over rough roads, through the jungle and tiny villages, on river rafts, and across the sea on a sickness-inducing boat, watching the genuine joy on all of their faces when the friends arrive with their special delivery is to draw a tear or two.

For as touching and endearing as the spot is, it was never the initial plan to do a follow up to "Beer Fridge." Aaron Starkman, partner and creative director at Molson agency Rethink, says as the agency was in creative development for Molson’s Olympics campaign the first spot was going viral, which caused a change of course. "We heard back from consumers. It really resonated and did some fantastic things for the brand," says Starkman. Based on this new development, an idea Rethink had about real friends delivering special edition Olympic bottles to their buddy living in a jungle ended up being tweaked to involve the red beer fridge. "We liked it even more because of this. If a red fridge with a maple leaf would stand out in Europe, we started to get stoked imagining it in some ridiculously remote place like Papua New Guinea."

To cast the spot, they started with Facebook and specific searches designed to find Canadians living abroad. But the tactic came up short. "Naturally, everyone we contacted thought we were spamming them," says Starkman. "How would you react if you got a message that said something to the effect of ‘We can't tell you what this is about, but a certain brand in Canada is wondering if you'd be interested in possibly being in a television commercial we can't tell you about.'" Apparently there just aren’t any Canadian hockey fanatics in Papua New Guinea.

So they shifted the search back home, working with a TV casting agent to find any Canadians who’d tried out for reality TV programs and happened to have a friend living ridiculously far away. "The further the better," says Starkman. "We got a bunch of responses: Cebu, Philippines, Liberia, Africa, Cambodia. In the end, one of the people that emailed gave us a great lead on a guy selling huts on a beach in the Gili Islands. No motorized vehicles there at all, and only one bar with a TV and they only show Aussie Rules football. It was perfect. And the guy there was as diehard a hockey fan as they come. Then we found Morgan's two best friends from Ottawa, Ryan and Phil, and they were totally up for giving their buddy the surprise of his life."

With that the wheels were set in motion for Ryan and Phil to hand-deliver a fridge and a high-speed satellite package so that this diehard hockey fan could watch every Olympic hockey game—with a little taste of home. Sounds wonderfully patriotic and perfectly on brand, right? Except that they actually had to get two fridges there (yes, two: one for back-up). The result is a South Pacific version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Director Tyler Williams of Untitled Films says clearing the cargo through customs was the first major hurdle. Once on the ground, however, things got even more complicated. "The logistics of actually filming the spot while keeping the whole premise a secret from Morgan the whole time were a little bit insane. It was the equivalent of planning a bank heist." Williams says that Morgan legitimately had no idea of what was going on and that, because of how small the island is—and the fact that Morgan and his fiancée are two of the only Canadians living there—pretty much all of the residents know them. "You can imagine how quickly word would spread if anyone saw a camera crew transporting a bright red fridge with a Canadian maple leaf on it off of a boat and across the island to Morgan’s front door," Williams adds. "Not to mention that Phil and Ryan, who were trying to remain hidden until the right moment, were carrying that fridge. If Morgan caught wind of any of this our cover would be blown." The crew made up a bogus interview story in order to get Morgan off the island while his two friends snuck onto Gili Aire.

Starkman says getting on the island without ruining the surprise was merely one of the many issues of shooting in Indonesia. "The entire shoot almost didn't happen. We had the hardest time obtaining permission to get in. One of Morgan's friends and I didn't initially get the green light due to a logistical issue. We had the flight booked and had to change it three times until we got the go ahead." Then there were vast differences in the levels of communication that were jarring. "We heard things back from Indonesia that didn't make us feel too confident such as ‘the person who faxes over documents is away and we have to wait until he gets back,’" says Starkman, adding that the whole experience is something he’ll remember for a very long time. So, too, will Morgan, we think.

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  • Kimberley Wright

    I have lived in Indonesia for years and have been to Bali, Lombok and Gili Air many times…yes the commercial may not be completely accurate on the facts of transportation….but who cares it creates a great storyline filled with adventure. In some areas in Indonesia those are the modes of transportation depicted in the commercial, so it not like they completely exaggerated the whole thing. I also attached the website to Morgan the developers website.

  • Shawn Laidlaw

    This ad's a bunch of crap. I really liked it at first until I realized it was in Gili islands - somewhere I've been a few times and was preparing to go to Indonesia again and, did end up visiting the Gili's again in order to relax for a few days after truly 'roughin' it' for several weeks. As you've heard - none of the modes of transportation shown in the ad are necessary to get to the very touristy and very 'on the beaten path' Gili islands. Not to mention, they glorify a foreigner who is there to build yet another unneeded resort to further marginalize any remaining local culture on the Gilis and to compromise the ecological integrity of the islands even more (most amenities - even resorts - there are powered by generators as they are tiny islands that do not have a true power grid).

    You really couldn't find any other Canadian anywhere that truly required an adventure to get to? Good idea, bad execution.

  • I agree with Craig's comment. As a marketer and film-maker I liked Molson's attempt to create drama and a sense of awe at the whole adventure. Sadly, though it does make this part of Indonesia look like a backwater, and uses a lot of "Hollywood license". Like Craig, I too have taken the same trip to do my open water diving certification in the spectacular Gilis. However, everyone who goes there flies to Lombok, takes a car/taxi/bus to the boat dock and then gets on one of those little boats direct to the islands 45 minutes away. Or goes direct from Bali by fast boat. It would have been interesting if Rae Ann had done a bit more research and brought that up in her article, because if they really had to take the modes of transportation shown, they were really lost!

  • What a GREAT story. Too bad it's embellished. We've been to Lombok (the main island) and the 3 gills ("gill" means island) many times -- where this supposedly took place. The only shot of this location was when the friends were looking at the map (0:28). Yes, those are the 3 islands off of the coast of Lombok - on that map. The rest (meaning all but 1 second) is in Malaysia, specifically the village of Serungga. The airport is not Lombok (where they would have landed - no other option). Check out the name of the boat taxi at 1:40): Serungga Indah means "beautiful Serungga", and that's in Malaysia. And that poled raft at 1:07... Nothing like that in Lombok. And the drive down a tiny road etc? Not Lombok and not any of the gills. And no Canadian is developing a resort on any of the gills. Still, a nice story that I's sure happened. But why not just say Malaysia?

  • Shawn Laidlaw

    Totally agree, except you can fly to Bali and get to the Gilis even easier/faster than if flying to Lombok first from Bali. But ya - it's bogus. Why not just Malaysia, hey?

  • In my opinion, it is not a Canadian thing to do to go to a Third World country and bring a beer fridge to one of the wealthiest people on the island. Hopefully the guy enjoys some beers with his friends and neighbors and then donates the new fridge to a local health clinic or hospital… That would be a fabulous follow-up to the ad. Chris McDonell London ON Canada

  • Shawn Laidlaw

    Although I agree with your sentiment, it actually is a very Canadian thing to do. We're not as great as we all like to think and we're generally just as ignorant and close-minded as our neighbors to the south that we like to think of ourselves as very distinct from - but we're not.

  • Craig Thomson

    I thoroughly enjoyed this short story and I think it's one of the better beer commercials of the last few years. However, it is still a production and thus, it should be taken as one. First of all, I have traveled to the same island known as Gili Air (not Gili Aire as stated above.) Morgan is depicted as living deep in the jungle in a location that is hard to reach. This is not true, however. One scene shows them traveling by raft through a river followed by a trek through the jungle. This was simply to add a sense of adventure and danger. This is how I got to Gili Air. I took a local flight from Jakarta to Lombok's brand new, shiny airport. From there I hired a driver to take me to Bangsal port about 2 hours away (the island is not very big.) From there I took a 45 minute boat ride and I was there. But that wouldn't be so interesting to watch so I get why they did it that way.

  • Bongo

    Wonderful. I always feel like a bit of a sap though when I feel like something's a little questionable. Real life friends. Okay, if you say so. I guess so. Why does a guy living on Gili Island in a little hut, cut off from the rest of the world, answer the door in a glaringly clean set of duds, and a perfectly coifed do. It looked like he'd been through hair, makeup, and wardrobe. You know - like actors do.