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Corona Light Ditches the Beach in New Spot

La Comunidad Effort Goes for More Urban Feel as Beer Brand Looks to Stand Apart From Surf-Loving Sibling Extra

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The U.S. importer of Corona Extra and Corona Light is speeding its retreat from the beach, debuting a TV ad this week for Corona Light that for the first time has no sign of the shore. No bathing suits. No umbrellas. Not even a passing ocean breeze.

Indeed, the ad -- featuring a pair of New York DJs spinning tunes at rooftop parties in Los Angeles -- by Corona Light agency-of-record La Comunidad is as urban and up-tempo as Corona Extra spots are calm and breezy.

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Corona Light: Party Mashup

"This is the first time ever a Corona brand -- Corona or Corona Light -- has been off the beach," Jim Sabia, exec VP-marketing for Crown Imports, told Ad Age.

For a brand that has built its reputation as an ocean vacation in a bottle, the move away from shore would have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. But under Mr. Sabia's leadership, Corona last year began pulling up its umbrellas and beach chairs in a move to get drinkers to consider more occasions for the beer, the top-selling U.S. import and sixth-biggest overall beer brand. Still, last year's "Find Your Beach" campaign for Corona Extra kept the shore close. While the ad featured mountains, a cliff and a (gasp) a New York city rooftop, it ended with the familiar couple sipping seaside Coronas and lime.

And while the beach will remain Corona Extra's province -- even if it's just hinted at subtly at times -- Crown is taking Corona Light in an entirely new direction, as it ramps up its effort to differentiate the two brands. "We want Corona to be on the beach and Corona Light to be a little more urban, a little more major market," Mr. Sabia said.

The decision did not come lightly, said Mr. Sabia, who joined Crown in early 2009. "As the new guy here in 2009 I was very, very careful because here is a campaign that's iconic," said Mr. Sabia, whose resume includes a 17-year career at Molson Coors, where he helped propel Coors Light to stellar growth with its cold-refreshment positioning. So Corona took baby steps out of the water -- and even away from the sun -- last year with the "Find Your Beach" effort for Corona (by roster agency Cramer-Krasselt) and a spot called "Moonlight" for Corona Light, which included a scene of a nighttime beach party. The spot was part of the "It Only Gets Better" effort, representing the first standalone national campaign for Corona Light, which debuted in the states in the late 1980s. Through research, Crown learned that Corona Light could leave the beach with no backlash.

"Consumers said go, get off the beach. Corona's got the beach. You guys can go off the beach," Mr. Sabia said.

Thus was born the new ad, called "Party Mashup," set on two rooftops backed by the Los Angeles skyline. In the ad, music from the casual celebration conflicts a more upscale party nearby. The tension is resolved when the two DJs ("B-Roc" Ruttner and James "JPatt" Patterson) join their music together, which is meant to play on Corona Light's positioning as a premium/casual brand, said Jose Molla, co-founder and co-chief creative officer for Miami-based La Comunidad. "It shows how the premium and the casual side combine [and] create something that works better," he said. Corona Light is the "social brother" of Corona, he added, comparing Corona Extra to a couple on honeymoon and Corona Light to a party with 20 of your closest friends.

As of late, both brands are on the rebound after a rough stretch in which all imports were battered during the recession. Corona Extra shipments fell 9.8% in 2009, but eked out a 0.1% gain in 2010, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. (Its share of the import market is 26.4%, while it commands 3.4% of the total beer market.) Corona Light, which has 3.5% of the import market, saw its shipments fall 1.3% in 2010, according to Beer Marketer's. According to Crown's internal figures from SymphonyIRI, grocery sales for Corona Light were down 1% in the year ended March 27, outperforming the total imported light beer market, which was down 6.4% (excluding Canadian brands).

The top-growing import in 2010 was Anheuser-Busch's Stella Artois, whose shipments grew 20.3% and now has 3.5% import share (eighth place among imports), according to Beer Marketer's. Crown's Modelo Especial -- a brand with major Hispanic appeal and the third-largest import -- also turned heads, growing 15.7%, according to Beer Marketer's. Heineken is in second place among imports at 15.5% share, which declined from 17% share in 2009.

Modelo Especial this year will get its first English-language TV ad, as it seeks to capitalize on the momentum and growing business among non-Hispanics. Crown did not provide details on the buy or the agency behind the spot, designed to run in line with a retail promotion related to professional soccer.

Corona Light's closest competitor in import light category is Heineken Light, whose shipments dropped 8.1% in 2010, according to Beer Marketer's. Importer Heineken USA is now looking for a new agency for the light beer, with Publicis and Wieden & Kennedy pitching for it as well as the Heineken brand. Both brands had been handled by Euro RSCG. A new campaign for Heineken Light is expected this summer, and executives recently hinted to Ad Age that they would be seeking to more closely align it with the main Heineken brand, a move that at first glance would appear to differ from Crown's move to more clearly differentiate Corona and Corona Light.

"The light brand has to be very tied with the mother brand," Heineken USA Chief Marketing Officer Lesya Lysjj said last week. "We're not big enough compared to the Buds and Bud Lights to kind of dilute the message. And I think we have to find the right balance of speaking to the light consumer but still within the overall Heineken message."

Of course, Crown also seems to be keeping some common links between Corona Extra and Corona Light, with both positioned for the social, laid-back drinker. Indeed, while the new Corona Light ad doesn't have a beach, it does show a quick glimpse of a swimming pool.

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