Rival sales flat
While hot weather generally fuels sales volume across the beer sector, Coors Light appears to be picking up market share. During the last 13 weeks, its shipments grew nearly 3%, while its closest rival, Miller Lite, saw flat sales.
"It's the best performance we've seen from Coors Light in a while," said Houston-area distributor Don Faust Jr., who handles both Coors and Miller brands. Mr. Faust said his Coors Light sales were up 8.5% this year.
For Coors Light, which hasn't gained share during a full-year period since 2000, that signals significant progress. "We think the heat helps us," said a Coors Brewing spokeswoman. "Our research shows that people see cold and refreshing as unique to the Coors Light brand."
It's not hard to see why: The brand has spent the last two years ceaselessly touting itself as frigid, with ads by FCB, Chicago, starring the "Cold Train" and innovations such as "stay-cold glassware" and portable "cooler boxes" running one after another. Those ads follow decades of harping on a similar theme: the Golden, Colo.-based brand's snow-capped Rocky Mountain heritage.
The "Cold Train" is reappearing in spots slated for the start of football season, and executives for the No. 3 brewer said in a recent conference call with analysts that they expect total media spending to grow in the low single digits from last year's $137.8 million. (That total was a 18.2% increase over 2004.)
"They've been doing the cold Rocky Mountain thing practically since Julius Caesar's first term, so I'm sure it does contribute to something like this," said beer-industry analyst Manny Goldman. "Their advertising has been the most consistent of all the big brewers, and that may be paying off right now."
Consistency, Mr. Goldman said, may be more important to the Coors brand's apparent revival than the weather. He compared the Coors Light ads to marketing by Miller Lite, which surged in 2003 and 2004 on a series of ads emphasizing its lower-carb content and better taste than No. 1 light beer Bud Light. During 2005, Miller largely abandoned the beer-focused push for a more cerebral campaign focused on manliness, by Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, and sales softened. Miller Lite-which remains the No. 2 light beer behind Bud Light and ahead of Coors Light by a wide margin-recently began airing a round of comparative spots.
Coors Light's advertising, while drawing yawns from critics and even Coors distributors, has been much steadier by comparison.
Ideas that sell beer
"Personally, I find the cold campaign a bit trivial," said Joe Cotroneo, whose Crescent Crown Distributing is the major Miller and Coors distributor in the Phoenix area. "But for all the times you see a great idea or concept not sell any beer, maybe that says something about what does."
That trend continued through the summer despite the fact that Miller's core markets were even hotter than Coors', according to an analysis by Citigroup beverage- industry analyst Bonnie Herzog.
The cold spots will have to become even more central to the brewer's efforts in the months ahead because its most recognizable pitchman, Pete Coors, suffered an embarrassing drunk-driving arrest in May that became public this summer. Mr. Coors subsequently apologized and pleaded not guilty, but the incident is likely to hinder his effectiveness as a pitchman, particularly in the responsible-drinking ads he frequented.
Still, Coors marketing executives emphasized that changes in the brewers' sales ranks, and the decline of the low-carb craze -- Coors Light was hurt disproportionately when carbs were anathema, they said -- also have played a role in the brand's renaissance.
A Coors spokeswoman said the company is encouraged by forecasts for more hot weather this summer but noted that sales started growing last fall and winter, before the current heat wave. "Hot weather doesn't hurt, that's for sure," she said. "But there's more going on here than that."