Balzac’s celebrates 30 years with hand puppetry

Ontario coffee chain Balzac’s is taking a hands-on approach to marking its 30th anniversary, with a new campaign from Believco.

It’s the largest fully integrated campaign in the brand’s history, including digital out-of-home, social, PR and an in-store promotion offering a trip for two to Paris. The brand has also created an anniversary roast that is available at its stores and online.

“It’s not a typical campaign like we’ve ran in the past, but given this milestone, we felt it was the right time to really make some noise and bring this brand to life in a big way,” said Tom Rojek, director of sales and marketing strategy for Balzac’s in Ancaster, Ont.

The campaign is led by a 30-second video called “Theatre of the Hand” that is running as YouTube pre-roll and on Balzac’s social channels. The video uses finger puppets do the heavy lifting of showing and telling the story of the company’s evolution, from a single coffee cart at Toronto’s Ontario Place, to 16 Parisian-inspired shops across the province.

The past several years have also seen the chain actively grow its retail presence, which now encompasses about 2,000 stores in every province, as well as partnerships with several large grocers including Loblaws and Sobeys.

“It’s really been growing by leaps and bounds over the last few years,” said Rojek.

Believeco creative director Randall Graham said that creative approach reflects the idea that touch represents a key sensory interaction with coffee, beyond just taste and smell. “How many times have we placed both hands around a cup of coffee and taken a moment of pause? Letting it steel us for the day ahead,” said Graham. “With a coffee in your hand, there’s no telling what you might accomplish.”

The brand’s namesake, French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac, was famously fuelled by coffee, (“supposedly” 50 cups a day, according to the narrator in the ad). In an 1830s essay entitled “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee,” he wrote: “Coffee is a great power in my life. I have observed its effects on an epic scale. Coffee roasts your insides.”

“This is a big year for our brand, and we want to pay homage to and really celebrate our storied past, but we wanted to do it in a way that was fun and really creative, and with some thumb-stopping power,” added Rojek. “We’re proud of where we come from, but we didn’t want [the campaign] to come off as a history lesson.”

Balzac’s might be small beans in comparison to coffee giants like Tim Hortons and Starbucks, but Rojek said it occupies a unique place in Canada’s $6.2 billion coffee market, thanks to locations that are tailored to each neighbourhood and designed as destinations where customers can spend some time.

“When you look at our cafe aesthetic, you really see that come to life,” said Rojek. “The cafes are really built intentionally to represent Balzac’s as a brand, but really take inspiration from the communities in which we live.”

The campaign runs through the end of the year, with Believeco also handling media.

Chris Powell