Coors Light Makes Marketing Shift After Ads Got Too Serious

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Credit: MillerCoors

Coors Light will talk more about its beer and less about human achievement as it seeks to reverse a sales slump. The ad shift—which includes more emphasis on its classic "World's Most Refreshing Beer" tagline— is another sign of a burgeoning backlash against highbrow ads that have very little to do with the products marketers are trying to sell.

Coors Light has traditionally been associated with fun advertising that pushes a its Rocky Mountain cold refreshment image with visuals like cold party trains.

But in 2016 the brew got serious, rolling out a campaign called "Climb On" that sought to build emotional bonds with drinkers by portraying people overcoming challenges. Or as executives described it, "climbing their personal mountains."

The effort, however, did not not send the brand climbing. Quite the opposite: Coors Light shipments fell 4.1 percent in 2017, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. So now the beer is going going back to its roots, with more product-focused ads carrying an upbeat tone and plenty of images of its Rocky Mountain birthplace.

"We all know that 2017 was a rough year for us," says Ryan Marek, VP of marketing for the Coors family of brands at MillerCoors. Ads "focused too much on overcoming challenges and it became serious and it became staid." That, he says, is at odds with the high-energy and optimistic tone the brand has traditionally embraced. "We know that when we celebrate our beer and when we celebrate our positioning as the 'world's most refreshing beer,' it resonates very well with people."

The new work by creative agency-of-record 72andSunny includes a TV ad showing a group of guys enjoying some Coors Lights during a hiking trip through the snowy Rockies. The brand touts its brewing credentials at the end, saying it is "lagered, filtered and packaged cold for a crisper, cleaner finish."

Marek says the brand will not entirely abandon the "Climb On" line or the broader aspirational positioning. But the theme will be tweaked to plug the brew for "those who thirst for more," he says. And beer-focused ads will get the most media weight, he says.

"In today's world we have to be both emotional and functional. And that means exhibiting a lifestyle people find to be aspirational," he says. "But you can't just rely solely on being a lifestyle brand when you are a consumable category that is very much oriented around refreshment. You need to make sure you are adequately telling your product story."

It's a lesson that other brands have learned recently. Cadillac, for instance, opted to feature more vehicles in ads it ran during Sunday's Oscars, departing from its 2017 approach that included a sweeping ad plugging unity. "I kind of feel the public is tired of seeing these heavy, lofty ads," Cadillac marketing director Renée Rauchut told Ad Age last week. Coke just entered the third year of its soda-focused "Taste the Feeling" campaign that moved away from the more ideals-based "Open Happiness" ads.

Of course, plenty of brands are still trying to feed off societal issues. Google's Nest inserted itself into the #MeToo movement with an Oscars ad portraying a father using the Nest Hello video doorbell to remotely teach his son about being respectful to women. The ad, of course, attempts to pitch a product while plugging into a topical issue. (Setting aside whatever separate issues could be raised about remote parenting.)

The risk is that such tactics come off as exploitive. Ram ran into that problem with its Super Bowl ad that attempted to promote public service by weaving audio of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech amid footage of its pickup trucks.

"I think marketers these days need to ask themselves what banners can they really carry, and what role do consumers expect them to play," Marek says. For Coors Light, that means keeping it, well, light. "Beer is social, and it is a generally very happy and engaging category, and that is where we want to play."

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