Its new print effort, a Coors Light campaign that plays off Grant Wood's painting "American Gothic," marks the start of a bolder effort by the country's No. 3 brewer to capture a greater share among gays, a group prized for their brand loyalty and high disposable income levels.
"When you have your biggest competitors investing heavily in a very brand-loyal beer drinking audience, you need to be there. You just can't ignore that," said Joe Landry, publisher of The Advocate.
Previous gay-targeted efforts by brewers, including Coors, tended to be either general-market ads placed in gay publications, gay-oriented promotions, or general-market ads with the addition of the six-color rainbow flag, an emblem of the gay community. But that's changing fast.
A NEW LEVEL
"Courting the gay consumer has reached a different level in beer marketing. It's not just enough to include ads in gay publications. In order to get away from the clutter and the competition, they are trying to get a big impact with gay-specific ads," said Todd Evans, CEO at Rivendale Marketing, which tracks ad spending in national and local gay-oriented publications.
Gay-specific creative "is more impactful," he said. "I would say that you could almost spend less if you have a gay-specific creative" theme.
Beer marketers in 1999 spent about $1.5 million advertising in national and local gay publications, according to Rivendale. Megamarketer Anheuser-Busch allocates more toward the segment than any other brewer -- about $650,000 in national and local gay media last year. Miller Brewing Co. holds down the No. 2 spot, with $400,000, followed by Coors, with about $150,000. That's still a small percentage of the brewers' total annual ad budgets.
Smaller players, too, are pursuing the gay market, with Beck's North America's Beck's, Seagram Beverage Co.'s Grolsch, Latrobe Brewing Co.'s Rolling Rock and Boston Beer Co.'s Samuel Adams spending less than $20,000 each, according to Rivendale.
Coors has been advertising in gay publications since the 1980s, but this year will mark its largest-ever outlay for gay-specific ads, said Mary Cheney, corporate relations manager for gays and lesbians at Coors. She would not give specific figures, but said ad spending to gays alone would increase 20% by the end of 2000.
In the past, Coors' marketing efforts have included advertising but focused mainly on sponsorships, aligning its brands with national gay groups such as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays, Ms. Cheney said.
The new Coors Light ads are running in The Advocate, Genre and Instinct, as well as in other publications that cater to lesbians, such as Curve and Girlfriend. The "American Gothic" takeoff, which debuted in the April issue of Genre, shows a beefy, broad-chested man clad in overalls and holding a pitchfork and a Coors Light. A slighter, good-looking man who also holds a Coors Light leans against the first. A yellow farmhouse and farm setting, a la Grant Wood, form the backdrop. The ad is from Omnicom Group's Integer Group, Lakewood, Colo. The brand will have a larger showing in publications for June, Gay Pride Month.
The Advocate's Mr. Landry said the Coors ad is one of the few in the category to show two men rather than just, for example, clasped male hands, as A-B used for Bud Light last year. That ad, along with another showing a Bud Light bottle decked out in leather jacket, cap and chains, sparked controversy last year. The campaign was A-B's most daring since it began targeting gays, according to Rivendale's Mr. Evans.
A-B "did raise the level" of obvious targeting of gays, he said. "Miller Beer has risen to the occasion, and that forces someone like Coors -- or someone else in the market -- to have to" do more to get attention.
In July, Miller at the last minute pulled the industry's first gay-specific TV commercial, claiming the spot, which showed male models enjoying Miller Genuine Draft at a backyard barbecue, had not received proper approval (AA, July 12).