Illustration by Graeme MacKay – Friday February 17, 2023
Bob & Doug McKenzie take on a beer tax hike
A couple of hosers are telling the Liberal government to take off over its plans to introduce a 6.3% tax increase for beer in April.
Working with scriptwriters Larry MacInnis and former MacLean’s humour columnist Scott Feschuk, actors Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas have resurrected their beloved Canadiana characters Bob and Doug McKenzie for a series of scrappy, quick-turnaround radio ads that use their trademark humour to take on the planned tax increase.
The national radio campaign is from Beer Canada, an advocacy organization representing 50 brewers ranging in size from the Canadian divisions of the global multinationals, to regional brewers and what president CJ Hélie describes as a “smattering” of the country’s small craft brewers.
It is one of the first public outreach campaigns from Beer Canada as part of a new communications mandate under Hélie, a longtime beverage alcohol executive who joined the organization in 2021. “I believe that to be successful in government advocacy, you need to convince the public and the general electorate,” said Hélie. “You will see us continually out talking to consumers from now on.”
Beer Canada was looking for a way to deliver its message in a way that would resonate with consumers, and perhaps even get the attention of the country’s MPs, said Hélie. “We thought we had a really good message, but who would be the messenger?
“So we thought ‘How can we raise the level of discourse out there?’ We were going back and forth on ideas, when [Beer Canada’s vice-president of strategic communications] Karine Cousineau said ‘What about Bob and Doug McKenzie.?”
The McKenzie Brothers were once familiar faces in Canadian ad-land, appearing in campaigns for brands including Pizza Hut Canada, Mr. Lube, Molson Golden, and Molson Ice (alongside the late hockey great Guy Lafleur).
However, Moranis and Thomas have largely retired the characters, who last appeared publicly in a 2017 benefit for Spinal Cord Injury Ontario. Their last TV appearance was a 2007 CBC Television special entitled Bob & Doug McKenzie’s Two-Four Anniversary.
Cousineau reached out to their agents, and got a call from Moranis later that day. “He said, ‘I understand you’re looking to perhaps bring Bob and Doug back together,’” said Hélie. “That’s very unlikely, since we haven’t done anything in a long time, but what’s your pitch?’”
Hélie said the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids star was immediately receptive to appearing in ads addressing a tax that would drive up the price of beer, which was basically an uncredited third star of their appearances as Bob and Doug McKenzie.
Recorded remotely last week, with Moranis in New York and Thomas in Los Angeles, the three 30-second spots feature Bob and Doug repeating some of their signature refrains, including “coo loo coo coo, coo coo coo coo” and “How’s it goin’, eh?” while railing against the beer tax.
In one spot, Doug (Thomas) suggests that the government consider taxing other things instead, such as yams, confetti, or liver. “Leave beer alone, eh,” he says. In another, he says that the beer tax is already like his brother’s head, overinflated.
Hélie sat in on the one-hour recording session, and said his impression was that Moranis and Thomas don’t talk often now that they live on opposite coasts, yet were able to easily slip into their respective characters. “They started riffing on potential lines they might use, and our writers were taking notes like crazy,” he said. Almost all of the ads were ad-libbed during an initial brainstorming session.
The ads drive to a dedicated site, HereForBeer.ca, where consumers can contact their local MP asking them to stop the beer tax hike. The site also features a cartoon rendering of the two characters created by Graeme MacKay, an editorial cartoonist at The Hamilton Spectator.
Since Bob and Doug were at the height of their popularity when beer was sold in “stubbies,” it’s not surprising that the campaign is largely aimed at older Canadians (as well as Members of Parliament). The media buy is largely focused on AM talk and news stations, with an emphasis on Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Atlantic Canada (a region that tends to over-index on brewing).
And if everything goes according to plan, true loves all across Canada won’t have to overpay for the “six packs of two-four” Bob and Doug sing about in their version of “Twelve Days of Christmas.” (The Message)