While the belief is that the beers driving the retro craze are brands that have already died, the reality is, those beers have truly never died, depending on one’s definition of what dead means. A couple of national brands, Pabst and Coors, have experienced growth for years, while Miller High Life is showing some signs of returning. Recently, some regionals have managed to come back to life again, including: Rainer, Lone Star, and even Hamm’s. On the other hand, other beers have yet to see any real life in their comeback.
Coors and Miller High Life simply turned the clock back by using the core themes that made each brand viable years ago. Coors is again using the Rocky Mountain theme, while Miller is rerunning its classic theme: If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer. Both brands seem to have hit a positive nerve with the consumer. Pabst, on the other hand, has tapped into the anti-establishment crowd with young drinkers as an alternative to corporate brands.
The other brands, all tap into their regional roots, but also lean back to previously successful marketing and pricing strategies that make sense in today’s environment.
In 1993, Coors Brewing decided to roll out a clear liquid they named “malternative” beer. This was perceived as the solution to consumers who did not like traditional beers. At the same time, other CPG companies were experimenting with clear liquids, including Crystal Pepsi and Miller, the later of who tried a liquid called Clear Beer. Neither product proved to be successful.
In 1994, Coors reportedly spent over $38 million marketing against Zima, a figure equal to, or perhaps more than was spent on marketing for its own Coors Light! While it has been estimated that over 70% of America’s regular beer drinkers sampled Zima, most of those consumers were not repeat purchasers. That year, Coors sold over 1 million bbl. of Zima.
1994 marked the highest sales for Zima, as the brand quickly found that their demographics skewed young female, with males being adverse to the product. College kids mixed Schnapps with Zima, making the liquid into a cocktail. David Letterman even picked up on Zima and added it to his top-ten-list of things to chastise in his humorous remarks.
In an effort to attract males, in 1995, Coors introduced Zima Gold, a higher ABV liquid with a bourbon-and-coke flavor. Zima Gold lasted only a few months. By 2000, Coors reformulated the brand once again. This time the product tasted similar to Sprite and the brand was advertised as a thirst quencher for the summer. Interestingly, this reformulated brand sold 600K bbl.
Two more reformulations were attempted, the first in 2004, by once again increasing the ABV to 5.9% and naming the brand Zima XXX with flavors such as Hard Punch and Hard Orange. This market, however, was now being dominated by Smirnoff Ice.
Three years later, Coors reversed itself and went back to marketing to females. Zima was reformulated again with lower ABV, fewer calories and several fruity flavors. Some think the brand might have made it, however, label changes in Utah, along with higher taxes in California, ended any chance Zima could survive. Zima was officially laid to rest in 2008.
Once again, however, Coors has resurrected Zima, although for a limited time. Classified as a seasonal beer, with its iconic bottle and a new formula, Zima seems to have found some legs. If Zima survives this time, it will be the only product that was resurrected from the dead and lived. The industry will soon know if Coors will decide to continue with the production and sales of Zima.
Perhaps Coors sees a demographic no one else does: millennials and their Rose wine. Given the condition of the industry today, no one would be surprised.
Reincarnation occurs because we decide we haven’t learned enough lessons….