COORS NEW AD EFFORTS BUILT AROUND LOW-CARB BREW

Rollout of Aspen Edge Looks to Stem Recent Declines

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Facing steep volume declines and renewed competition from rivals touting low-carb messages, Coors Brewing Co. unveiled its 2004 marketing plan March 23 that includes as its centerpiece a new low-carb beer, Aspen Edge.

"Winning the low-carb battlefield is priority one because it's going to be huge. We're not going to let Anheuser-Busch run away with it," said Ron Askew, Coors' chief marketing officer, according to several in attendance at the annual convention for distributors, held this year in Honolulu.

May 1 rollout
The Golden, Colo.-based marketer plans to knock Anheuser-Busch's Michelob Ultra "out of the box" and take Aspen Edge national by May 1, one attendee said. Local commercials will break April 1. The marketer cited results in its first wave of market tests in Texas and the Northeast that were 30% above original forecasts

Although Coors showed only two product-oriented introductory ads for Aspen Edge, from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, Los Angeles, the brand was the focal point of the meeting. Under the tagline, "So good, it doesn't even know it's low carb," the spot takes viewers on a trip from the perspective of the beer bottle into a closing pouring shot. Mr. Askew also told distributors the company has Coors Edge and Keystone Edge "ready to go if they need them" as above-premium and below-premium entries.

All the major brewers are still trying to figure out exactly how to play the low-carb game, distributors said.

Watching appearances, not carbs
"Quite frankly the problem is the under-30 crowd doesn't want to be seen drinking [low-carb beer] because it announces that you're watching your carb count," said one Western distributor who didn't want to be named. He said Miller Lite has done well in part because its a mainstream brand and for "0.4 more carbs, you can drink Miller Lite and watch your carbs and not announce to the world that you're on a diet."

Moreover, he said Anheuser-Busch and Coors already have quietly experimented with reformulating their flagship brands for lower carbs. "It's not that hard to do, but they don't want to go with reformulating a major brand like that if the carb thing isn't going to stay," he said.

Two other strategies to regain traction in the U.S. beer market is to divert media spending from five smaller brands to reinvest in the Coors trademark brands and Aspen Edge. Executives said Coors would spend more media dollars this year than they did in 2003, with investment money coming from the burgeoning U.K. market.

Volume decline
Shipments of Coors Light, the nation's No. 3 brand, slipped 2% in 2003, its first-ever volume decrease, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. Meanwhile volume of the No. 1 brand, Bud Light, grew 2.5% and No. 4 Miller Lite grew 0.6%. While that's a relatively small gain, it reversed a 2.6% drop in 2002. Lite sales have surged for six straight months on its low-carb message. Coors' total volume fell 1.4% in 2003.

Coors dropped ad spending as well, spending $167 million in measured media last year, with about 75% of that amount on Coors Light, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. That's 16% fewer media dollars than in 2002.

Coors released a statement yesterday, saying it would support Coors Light and Coors Original with 20 TV spots, promotions, radio, out of home and print media from its two general market agencies and two multicultural agencies.

The twins, and Wingman
Among the new commercials for Coors Light, four spots are from the brewer's longtime agency, Interpublic's Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago, and will feature the ubiquitous "Coors Light Twins." Deutsch contributed follow-ups to its witty "Wingman" spots.

Keystone Light, Killians', ZimaXXX malternative, Blue Moon and Mexicali will be supported with field marketing. Mr. Askew told distributors that Coors would pull all the media spending from those five "street fighter" brands because, as one attendee explained, "none are really national. They're actually regional and they don't respond to TV and traditional media support, so don't treat them like mini Coors Light's." Those brands will get on-premise and field support.

Coors Light will be positioned for consumers under 30 years old, mainly men 21 to 27, who aren't concerned about carbs. "It's a beer that young adult males are proud to have in their hand when they go out," said the Western distributor.

Multicultural marketing
Another surprise was that the marketer showed eight multicultural marketing spots, signaling a shift that ethnic consumers are taking precedence over the general market, attendees said. San Antonio-based Bromley Communications, part of Publicis Groupe, created three spots for the Hispanic market, while independent Carol H. Williams Advertising, Oakland, Calif., created five ads for Coors Light for an African-American audience.

With SABMiller's Miller Brewing Co. planning a full-court press to win over distributors that also distribute Coors brands, Coors said it doubled its key account sales team that will work under a new mantra called "The Golden Standard."

"It's not only about the numbers, it's also about building morale, and Coors got it done," Kelly Clymer, president of Plano, Texas-based Golden Distributing Co., said in the statement.

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