Lowdown: Is a Battle of the Ultra Light Beers Brewing?

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The AB InBev Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Brewery in Saint Louis.
The AB InBev Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Brewery in Saint Louis. Credit: Courtesy of AB InBev
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Let's kick off this edition of Lowdown with a little M&A activity. On Wednesday, shareholders approved Anheuser-Busch InBev's plan to buy rival SABMiller, paving the way for the massive beer mashup to proceed. Plans call for the new company to go by the A-B InBev moniker and start trading Oct. 11. Months ago, as it prepared to get the deal approved, SABMiller agreed to sell its its 58% stake in the MillerCoors joint venture in the U.S. to Molson Coors Brewing.

Speaking of MillerCoors -- maker of the low-cal Miller64 brand that has failed to gain much traction -- is trying to take on hot-selling Michelob Ultra with a new brew. It is called Goldwing and will be brewed with 95 calories and 2.8 grams of carbs per serving, according to Beer Business Daily, which broke the news this week coming from a private MillerCoors wholesalers meeting in Chicago. Michelob Ultra has 95 calories and 2.6 grams of carbs per serving. The beer trade pub reported that the Goldwing brand is "designed to be even less beery" and will target women and Latinos. MillerCoors is starting slow, initially testing it in parts of Texas and Louisiana beginning in February.

Henry's Hard Soda
Henry's Hard Soda

MillerCoors also plans to extend its Henry's Hard Soda line with a new Hard Seltzer line, Beer Marketer's Insights reported. Hard seltzers gained traction this summer, with a slew of new brands hitting the market.

Earlier this month A-B InBev announced a deal to acquire one of the original hard seltzer brands, known as SpikedSeltzer. At its meeting, MillerCoors also gave a glimpse of its new approach to Miller High Life, which it recently shifted from Leo Burnett to Philadelphia agency Quaker City Mercantile. The economy brew will bring back its old "If you've got the time, we've got the beer" tagline, Beer Marketer's reported.

Both A-B InBev and MillerCoors continue to fail to generate the momentum of the nation's hottest big beer marketer: Constellation Brands. The marketer is really rolling in the critical Los Angeles market, where its Modelo Especial brand recently passed Bud Light as the market's top-selling beer, according to IRI data shared with Ad Age by Constellation. The brew commanded 12.2% dollar share in the 24-week period ending Sept. 24, while Bud Light had 11.1%, according to the data.

McDonald's What's Cooking - Egg McMuffin
McDonald's What's Cooking - Egg McMuffin Credit: McDonald's via YouTube

While we're on the subject of dominating brands, McDonald's continues to look for new ways to have its customers feel better about what they order (and, of course, visit more often). So it has enlisted its chefs to host a string of new videos that give glimpses into its cooking techniques. The "What's Cooking?" series kicked off this week with a look at how the Egg McMuffin got its start in Santa Barbara. It's a story McDonald's has told numerous times, with the notion of a freshly-cracked egg brought up on many a quarterly conference call (held during the morning hours - coincidence?). But this time, the effort is aimed at the wider public.

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Later videos will include another trip to California to showcase where produce comes from and to Idaho to harvest potatoes. McDonald's worked with Chicago shop Purple Strategies on the video project.

Makeup Genius
Makeup Genius

What's the future of mobile? It sure isn't about people using their phones to talk to other people, according to L'Oreal USA VP-digital innovation and entrepreneurship Rachel Weiss. Speaking on a panel at the Modern Marketing Summit, held alongside Advertising Week in New York on Monday, Ms. Weiss observed flatly: "We know people don't want to talk to human beings anymore." Any parent who's tried coaxing a millennial into calling someone for customer service help may concur. So what is the future of mobile as L'Oreal sees it? Ms. Weiss believes it will include consumer care within apps, such as Facebook's Messenger, using bots. She broadly expects to see "the death of apps" in favor of creating useful experiences within Messenger. But she also expects brand to find other ways to provide "on-demand utility" through such vehicles as L'Oreal's Makeup Genius for trying and buying makeup – without talking to a human being at a cosmetics counter.

Cedar's Hommus packaging – before (left) and after
Cedar's Hommus packaging – before (left) and after Credit: before and after

Speaking of makeovers, Cedar's Hommus has a new look. The brand has been working with GYK Antler for more than a year to come up with everything from fresh package and website designs to a new content campaign and updated more traditional digital marketing. The campaign began last week and marks Cedar's first time working with an external agency, according to Ashley Spicer, account director at GYK Antler. The tagline "Know Better Hommus" is a play on words, of course. And yes, the small brand continues to spell hummus with an "o" after the "h," differently than competitors including market-leader Sabra do. Starting in February, consumers can expect to see an extension of the campaign that folds in more of the brand's supporting products "always kind of having hummus kind of be our star," Ms. Spicer said.

Eight O'Clock
Eight O'Clock Credit: Eight O'Clock

Another makeover of sorts is taking place at Eight O'Clock Coffee. The brand is putting $3 million behind a campaign to promote its new "Infusions" line. Varieties include Alert, which is blended with caffeine and guarana; and Relax, made from chamomile and lavender. The eight-week campaign will include a sampling tour, social and digital ads, in-store displays, radio ads, a national FSI, a radio campaign and a direct mail sampling campaign. "Consumers today are drawn to products that provide an enhanced experience – these extensions to the Eight O'Clock family are truly unique and disruptive in the coffee aisle," David Allen, senior VP-sales and marketing at brand-owner Tata Global Beverages USA, said in a statement.

Coffee is a hot topic this week, with National Coffee Day set for Sept. 29. Anyone planning to celebrate might want to head to Portland, Ore. That city took the top spot in WalletHub's ranking of the best local coffee scenes among the 100 largest cities. Seattle, home to Starbucks, came in at No. 2. For those who can't make the trip, plenty of chains are trying to perk up their sales with low-priced offers and freebies Thursday.

Kellogg's Gold Medal Edition boxes of Special K Red Berries feature Team USA
Kellogg's Gold Medal Edition boxes of Special K Red Berries feature Team USA Credit: Kellogg's

Kellogg reaffirmed its commitment to the U.S. Olympic Committee this week. The cereal maker, which sponsored Team USA and individual athletes including Simone Biles in 2016, said it plans to be a Team USA sponsor for the 2018 and 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Kellogg's sponsorship category covers hot and cold cereal and granola, wholesome portable breakfasts, and frozen breakfast. Kellogg supported the Olympic Games from 1976-1992 and the U.S. Olympic Teams from 2000-2008, and then renewed its association with Team USA from 2012 through the recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Lastly, an executive move ...

Zimmerman Advertising has tapped Hill Holliday veteran Bryan Sweeney as exec-VP integrated content production. Mr. Sweeney spent 15 years leading integrated production at Hill Holliday, working with brands such as McDonald's and Cadillac, before joining the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based agency.

Contributing: Jessica Wohl, E.J. Schultz, Jack Neff and Adrianne Pasquarelli