Coors demands new ad ideas

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Coors Brewing and the twins could be heading for a breakup.

The No. 3 brewer is asking roster agencies 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.

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.

Some said, given Miller's recent revitalizing shift away from cleavage-focused ads, that the demise of the bikini-clad twins might mark a sea change in the use of sex to sell beer.

"Coors has 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 to run its U.S. business and potentially succeed President-CEO Leo Kiely, who is 57 (AA, May 10).

Coors put the call out to agencies last month; recommendations are due by 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.

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 handles African-American work, and its Hispanic shop, Publicis Groupe's Bromley Communications, San Antonio.

vital elements

A brewery spokeswoman declined to comment on what, if any, advertising changes Coors wanted. But she said it had identified elements in current advertising that resonated with consumers. It charged the agencies with using those elements in their next round of creative pitches. She wouldn't say 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 referred calls to Coors.

It's unclear when new ads would run. At least one spot with the twins is set to run this fall. As to whether they will continue after that, the spokeswoman said there wasn't "a feeling either way on that" but "there's no move away from them."

Mr. Askew pulled the "Ready for a cold one?" campaign from FCB. The "Rock on" campaign broke in April 2002, about six months after he started as CMO.

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

"The tagline `Rock on' is a call to action that, in young-adult language, is what Coors Light is all about," Mr. Askew said then in a statement. The skin quotien fell as the campaign evolved; it also developed to include the "Wingman" spot from Deutsch.

image, not income

The ads were popular with wholesalers and improved the brand's image with young adults, but didn't ring up sales. Coors Light had a 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, Insights.

The weak performance follows gains made in the late 1990s, partly at the expense of Miller Brewing Co.'s Miller Lite, which has grown since 2003, hurting Coors Light. Some of Miller Lite's growth is attributed to revamped advertising under its "Good Call" umbrella.

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