Coors Ads: A Simple Message Sells Beer
This column's about Coors (TAP) and how the brewer has racked up success while its peers have stagnated. So let's talk about beer. Beer is an extremely familiar product. All of the big beer brands—Coors, Budweiser (BUD), Miller, etc.—have been around forever. Virtually every sentient American consumer can conjure up a mental image of a Bud or Miller label faster than, well, a dainty seven-ounce mini-beer disappears after an August afternoon spent mowing the lawn. The big beers themselves—why beat around the bush?—are pretty generic products: brewed by the boatload and difficult to differentiate. (Among the giants, I theoretically prefer Miller Genuine Draft, but I'm not confident I could choose it in a blind taste test.)
As with soap flakes, these are products that, to a remarkable degree, rise or fall on how they're sold. Coors, a part of MillerCoors since this summer, can boast key brands in multiple categories—Coors Banquet (formerly plain old Coors), Coors Light, low-priced Keystone, and microbrew competitor Blue Moon—that are all posting healthy sales increases.
Through September, Coors Banquet's sales to retailers were up 12% in a declining category, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. "They have four brands that are growing way faster than the segments they're competing in," says the publication's editor, Benj Steinman. Credit Coors Chief Marketing Officer Andy England, who will continue the same role at MillerCoors and who refocused the brewer's ads in ways a political campaign would envy: one simple, even simplistic idea repeated at every conceivable opportunity.
"What Coors has done is said, 'Hey, I'm not going to be flashy, but [I'll] get to an idea that is just a little bit different,' " says Fred Geyer, a partner in brand strategy firm Prophet. The ads for the brewer's biggest brand, Coors Light, now focus on "cold refreshment." "To use the phrase Ad Age mentioned, it's 'mind-numbingly' focused" on its slogan, says an approving Marty Stock, who oversees Coors ads as executive vice-president at agency DraftFCB. Coors deploys that message smartly. To use but one oft-cited example, it has targeted the pre-happy-hour moment of 4:53 p.m. At that time, Coors Light ads have run across well-trafficked Web sites, such as Yahoo! Sports (YHOO) and the Weather Channel, the better to stoke cubicle-dwelling workers' thirsts at the end of a workday. "Cold refreshment" might seem a slender reed on which to hang a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. So Coors, Stock explains, offers a twist on it: " 'Refreshment' is totally generic. That's why we have 'Rocky Mountain cold refreshment' " as the catchphrase.
You might snicker at such talk (especially when you find out Coors Light is now brewed in Virginia) as well as the entire notion of selling cold beer based on its being...cold. You might also find the spots for Coors Banquet, which extol Coors' Western roots over footage of mountains and waving fields, to be indistinguishable from many past beer or even car ads. (The Banquet ads are narrated by archetypal movie cowboy Sam Elliott, whose leisurely basso is so profundo that when he utters words like "beer" and "barley," they sound like satisfied postprandial belches.)
Indeed, some beer ads have entered the pop-culture lexicon, such as Miller Lite's brutally catchy "Tastes Great/Less Filling." Other beer ads are so lavishly produced they almost warrant Hollywood comparisons, as any glimpse at Budweiser's Super Bowl spots will confirm. Unlike those, Coors' ads are decidedly prosaic and will never be mistaken for the attention-grabbing stuff adored by ad geeks. But judging from the evidence, they've worked, and England shrugs off jibes aimed at his company's ads. "In all honesty, I don't really care," he says. "I am a businessman first and a marketer second."
In his new, expanded role at MillerCoors, he'll try to boost Miller's sales with a similarly bone-simple message: taste. It will be interesting to see if England's touch will work twice. But it's already notable to see what politicos have long known: To win in a market crowded with media and message, forsake the fanciful. Just repeat something extremely basic—over and over and over again.