Corona thirsts for expansion

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As more american marketers venture into the barrio, it's been-there-done-that for Corona Extra. Already successful among Latino drinkers, the Mexican import wants to tap into black consumers in the eastern United States with its largest-ever radio campaign.

Gambrinus Co. seeks a greater share of the $1.3 billion blacks spent on beer last year and the $1.4 billion they could lay out in 2001, according to figures from Target Market News, a Chicago-based research firm that monitors black consumers. "We initiated the brand's success by [homing in on] the white-collar working professional," said Don Mann, group general manager for Modelo brands including Corona Extra at Gambrinus. "Then we really extended the brand's popularity to the Hispanic market. Now we are turning our sights on the African-American market as an opportunity for further growth, so it has a big upside for us."

Until now, rival Heineken has been a leading import choice for black Americans. About half of Heineken's consumers are white, and the other half are divided among blacks and Hispanics, according to Steve Davis, senior VP-marketing at Heineken USA. "We think it's a huge opportunity for us. We know others out there see the same opportunities."

Heineken's general market agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, New York, handles Heineken USA's African-American advertising, but the brand has a separate agency of record for Hispanic advertising, the Vidal Partnership, New York.

In Gambrinus' eastern U.S. territory, blacks account for about 16% of the population, but Mr. Mann said fewer than 10% of Gambrinus' consumers are black, with Hispanics accounting for about 15% to 20%.

Last year Corona Extra, the No. 1 import, sold 73 million cases, up 13%, according to the 2001 beer study from drinks publication Impact. Heineken, the No. 2 brand, grew 10% to 54 million cases.

"When you have a brand that does 73 million cases, it's good marketing to pursue every niche to expand sales," said Frank Walters, Impact's director of research.

Gambrinus plans to spend up to $800,000 per year on black radio stations, focusing on cities like Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, New Orleans and Houston. The radio campaign is dedicated to Corona Extra only, not sibling 105-calorie Corona Light. Constellation Brands' Barton Beers Ltd. distributes Corona in the western part of the country where there are fewer blacks than in the East. This radio campaign is limited to the eastern portion of the country.

The spots, an extension of Corona's five-year-old escape from everyday life campaign, portray characters whose demeanor changes after sipping a Corona Extra. In the first spot, airing since July, a disc jockey is transformed from an annoying guy who plays bad hip-hop dance music into a cool, suave voice against a background of slow, sexy jazz. An announcer ends the spot with the tagline "Smooth, refreshing Corona Extra. Miles away from ordinary."

The next two spots will feature an Army drill sergeant and a fortune teller.

Mr. Mann said the urban focus initially would be limited to radio but that other media could follow.

Gambrinus's agency of record, Richards Group, Dallas, handled the urban radio initiative.

"What we tried to do is capture the synergy in all of our marketing programs, so we didn't dilute one marketing initiative by building another," Mr. Mann said. "An ethnic campaign should not pull the brand in a different direction."

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