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BRAND IN DEMAND: CORONA EXTRA HEADS TO NO. 1 WITH TIGHT FOCUS

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Backed by a basic and unchanging marketing strategy, Corona Extra is posting spectacular results.

Supported by a simple ad campaign, focused efforts on Hispanic markets and aggressive pricing, the Mexican brew is set to enjoy its fourth year of double-digit growth and could in 1998 -- and possibly this year -- become the U.S.' top-selling imported beer.

"We believe Corona will surpass Heineken to become the No. 1 import," said Ron Christesson, marketing director for Gambrinus Co., which handles Corona chiefly in the eastern half of the country. (Barton Beers handles the brand mainly in the West.)

Last year, Corona sales jumped 35.7% to 28.9 million cases, while Heineken grew 7.2% to 36.7 million, according to Impact.

And Corona is showing no signs of slowing down. During the 52 weeks ended Nov. 2, supermarket sales of Corona hit 6.6 million cases, up 44.3% from the year-earlier period, according to Information Resources Inc. Heineken grew 9.4%, to 3.6 million cases.

"The growth rate has been phenomenal," said Benj Steinman, associate publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights.

'90s COMEBACK

This is a far cry from the late 1980s, when the brand was on the skids after enjoying popularity as the yuppie beer of choice. But Corona started coming back in the early '90s, based in part on increased marketing focus on the Mexican-American market in southern California. Barton and Gambrinus have kept up this focus on the Hispanic market; indeed, it's a key part of the Gambrinus marketing strategy for 1998.

Overall advertising is getting a boost next year, with spending on national TV ads, via Lois/EJL, Chicago, climbing 66% to $10 million (AA, Nov. 17). The two importers will boost their regional efforts by some 30% to $6 million apiece.

While spending will increase, the escapist advertising that positions Corona as the beer of "fun, sun and beach" will continue.

Corona importers backed the brand with $4.7 million in advertising in 1996, up 62.1% from the year-earlier period, according to Competitive Media Reporting.