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Brewer Asks Ad Agencies to Pitch New Marketing Ideas

By Published on .

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Coors Brewing Co. and the twins could be heading for a breakup.

The No. 3 brewer is asking roster ad agencies

Plagued by poor sales, Coors is moving to rethink and redefine its brand image and advertising. The bikini-clad twins may be bouncing toward the door.
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to pitch new creative ideas for struggling Coors Light, which for more than two years has been supported by the bikini-and-music charged "Rock On" campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.

A strong chance
Given Coors Light's weak performance since the campaign that introduced the bikini-clad twins broke in the spring of 2002, there's a strong chance of a change in direction.

"They've needed to rethink and redefine the brand for a long time," said Tom Pirko, president of consultancy BevMark.

The call for new ideas is the latest sign of the brewer's concern over the weak performance of Coors Light, which suffered its first-ever sales decline in 2003 after two weak years. Turning around Coors Light is crucial: It represents 75% of the brewer's domestic volume. Earlier this year, Coors launched a search for an executive to run its U.S. business and potentially succeed President-CEO Leo Kiely, who is 57.

Coors put the call out to agencies in late May and recommendations are due by the end of the month or early July for a fall campaign.

"I'm very pleased with our current television work but I'm always looking for new insights to better communicate with our consumers and have challenged our agencies to raise the bar for the next round of creative," Coors' chief marketing officer, Ron Askew, said.

The agencies
Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote Cone & Belding, Worldwide, Chicago, and sibling Deutsch, Los Angeles, handle Coors Light. Also participating are independent Carol H. Williams Advertising, Oakland, Calif., which creates African-American work, and Hispanic shop Bromley Communications, San Antonio, part of Publicis Groupe.

A brewery spokeswoman declined to comment on what, if any, changes the brewery wanted to make to its advertising. But she said it had identified elements in current advertising that resonated with consumers. It then charged the agencies with using those elements in their next round of creative pitches. She wouldn't identify what elements the brewery pegged. The directive is about "taking some of the things that seem to be working particularly well," the spokeswoman said. "It'll appear evolutionary from some of the ads."

FCB, Deutsch, Carol Williams and Bromley all referred questions to Coors.

Ambivalence toward twins
It's unclear when new ads would run. And at least one spot featuring the twins is slated to run this fall. As to whether they will continue beyond that, the spokeswoman said there wasn't "a feeling either way on that" but said "there's no move away from them."

Coors broke the "Rock on" campaign in April 2002, not long after Mr. Askew came on as chief marketing officer in October. After joining he pulled the "Ready for a cold one?" campaign from FCB.

Set in nightclubs, bars and parties and driven by loud sound tracks, the music-video-like ads celebrated good times and were aimed at 20-somethings, a demographic where Coors Light was weak. They also showcased plenty of bikinis and skin: An early spot showed a nude woman in a steamy shower with a rose tattoo on her backside.

Popular, but no sales
"The tagline 'Rock on' is a call to action that, in young-adult language, is what Coors Light is all about," Mr. Askew said in a statement at the time. As the campaign evolved, the skin quotient fell somewhat. It also developed to include the "Wingman" spot from Deutsch. While the ads were popular with wholesalers and improved the brand's image with young adults, they didn't ring up sales.

Coors Light squeezed out a meager 0.4% increase in shipments to wholesalers in 2002, after posting 1% growth in 2001, according to figures from industry newsletter Beer Marketer's Insights. In 2003, shipments fell by 2% to 16.6 million barrels as the overall U.S. beer category dropped 0.3%. During the first quarter, wholesaler sales to retailers in the U.S. for the overall brewery slipped 0.6%.

"Something about the message is not resonating," said Benj Steinman, publisher of Insights.

Miller's turnaround
The weak performance is a break from strong gains made in the late 1990s, partly at the expense of Miller Brewing Co.'s Miller Lite. In a turnabout, Miller Lite has grown since late 2003, partly at the expense of Coors Light.

Some of Miller Lite's improvement is attributed to revamped advertising under its "Good Call" umbrella. That work supplanted Miller's own cleavage-centric "Catfight" effort from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York.

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