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Crown Deserves a Toast for Big Sales in Bad Times

Innovative Corona Campaign, Profitable Modelo Brand Gives Brewer Reason to Drink to Its Success

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In a year where big brewers continued to lose ground, Crown Imports stands out for one simple reason -- it is actually growing sales, overcoming a tough economy with aggressive advertising on Corona and new investments in surging smaller brands.

The importer's sales to retailers were up 5% through September, compared to a roughly 2% decline for the overall beer category, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. "They are having a good year. It's a down industry, and they are up," said Benj Steinman, who runs the beer trade publication.

Crown 's flagship Corona Extra continues to stabilize after suffering big sales declines in 2008 and 2009 and a smaller drop last year. Crown is projecting a flat finish for the brand this year, but even that is an accomplishment in an age where older brands like Corona are facing new competition from craft beers and spirits brands, while dealing with recession-battered consumers spending less on beer.

"This year, in this environment, we are very pleased with the performance," said Chief Marketing Officer Jim Sabia. "However, our goal is to grow this brand."

To that end, Corona -- which built its reputation as a beach vacation in a bottle -- continues to make subtle moves away from the shore with its "Find Your Beach" campaign by Cramer-Krasselt, which is aimed at getting drinkers to consider more occasions for the beer. The latest spot -- which features a couple sipping Coronas on a plane, but daydreaming about the beach -- is simple yet elegant, and one of the few beer ads that drew unsolicited praise from distributors at a recent beer conference in Las Vegas.

Corona has also revamped its media-buying strategy, targeting more sports programming. The shift is a result of a complete marketing audit made by Mr. Sabia shortly after he joined the importer three years ago from Constellation Brands, which owns Crown in a joint venture with Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo. While Corona had previously focused on entertainment and comedy programming, Mr. Sabia said Crown learned through research that Corona consumers "were very active in sports."

But Crown 's biggest success story -- and the key to its recent growth -- is Modelo Especial, one of the hottest brands in all of beer with store case sales up nearly 19% in the year ending Oct. 2, according to SymphonyIRI, excluding Walmart. The Mexican import is particularly popular among Hispanic consumers. This year, Crown moved to broaden the beer's appeal, selling it on tap in more places and introducing new retail promotions. The marketer also hired Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which is prepping the first general-market campaign for the brand, which now ranks as the 14th-largest beer brand, according to SymphonyIRI. The brand's Hispanic agency is La Comunidad.

Mr. Sabia, whose resume includes a 17-year stint at Coors Brewing Co., has made a conscious effort to expand Crown 's agency roster, including shifting English-language advertising on Corona Light this year from La Comunidad to Goodby, while assigning Victoria and Pacifico to GSD&M.

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