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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Have passport, have a cold one: Canadian beer fridge an Olympic hit

Posted: 02/16/2014 8:26 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 02/16/2014 8:45 AM

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SOCHI, Russia - It may be the most famous household appliance in Sochi. A red beer fridge, which requires a Canadian passport to open, is an Olympic hit.

Team Canada defenceman P.K. Subban, long-track speedskater Lucas Makowsky and Olympic champion freestyle skier Alex Bilodeau are just some of the Canadian athletes to drop into Canada Olympic House to check out the fridge. Canadian actor Nathan Fillion recently gave it a plug on "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Jacques Rogge, former president of the International Olympic Committee, even gave it a once-over.

"Unfortunately he's not Canadian," Dasha Tsvetkova, co-ordinator of sponsorships and events at Molson Coors, said of the former Belgian Olympic sailor. "But we gave him a shot, we gave him our passport to use and he loved it."

On a recent morning at Olympic Park, Russian, American and Italian camera crews were on hand to document the fridge.

"This Hour has 22 Minutes" has even done a spoof with a U.S. beer fridge that requires an American passport to open. Sadly the beer inside is so weak that the Canucks ultimately reject it.

The real beer fridge is boosting the profile of Molson Coors, an official sponsor of the Canadian Olympic team which is using the smart fridge to promote its Canadian brand of suds.

Debuting in time for Canada Day last year, a 90-second video showing bemused locals interacting with the fire-red fridge in London and other parts of Europe has drawn more than 2.4 million views on YouTube. According to Google Inc., which owns YouTube, the beer fridge spot was No. 2 among the most viral Canadian ads of 2013 (behind WestJet's " Christmas Miracle" ad).

"We thought Sochi was a great place to bring another real-world experience for the fridge," said Tonia Hammer, Molson Coors social media manager.

"The whole point of it is a way to engage Canadians abroad and bring them a little taste of home wherever they are," she added.

When the passport is inserted into the reader slot on the front of the fridge, it hits a switch that tells the computer inside to take a picture. The computer then checks the photo to see if it matches its Canadian passport template.

The door slowly swings open to reveal 625-millilitre versions of the three-litre champagne-style Victory bottle of Canadian given to Canadian medallists (they get to pose with a prop version and then get the real filled bottle back home).

"It's a cool invention," said Hammer, adding: "Canada and beer go naturally together."

There are two such beer fridges. The other is back home in Toronto at Molson Coors headquarters.

This one came to Sochi by boat — a journey that lasted a month and a half. Prior to that, it was at the Winter Classic hockey game.

The friends and families of Canadian athletes who visit Canada Olympic House are drawn to the fridge. Traffic is probably helped by the fact it is located between the bar and the bathrooms.

"The reaction's great," said Hammer. "There are actually like 'Wow, I can't believe it works.' ... It's a great photo-op. Everyone wants a picture with it."

The fridge is open for business daily during the so-called Victory Hour between 5 and 6 p.m. local time, although the two Toronto-based Molson reps also run it other times as time and schedule permits.

The fridge remains a draw whether it is turned on or not.

Molson used a non-passport version of the fridge in an ad campaign during the world junior hockey championships, with two friends taking the fridge on a trek to a remote part of Indonesia to surprise a Canadian friend now based there. That has drawn more than 1.85 million views.

A second version of that campaign — like the others, created by Rethink Canada — is currently airing back home.

Molson Coors is staying mum on the beer fridge's post-Sochi future.

"It's destined for another adventure," Tsvetkova said with a smile. "But that's to be determined."

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