Labatt gets boost from under-30 set

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When the low-carbohydrate craze spread among consumers nationwide, Labatt USA's Jon Genese took note and shifted his marketing plans for a low-carb beer launch into a high gear one year ago with some aid from an unknown group called the MU-30s.

Rival Anheuser-Busch Cos., first to market with its low-carb brew Michelob Ultra in September 2002, had a hit with beer drinkers, and numerous competitors had launches in the works. Mr. Genese, director-marketing, domestic specialty brands, wanted Labatt USA's low-carb beer Green Light on store shelves and in consumers' hearts and minds before the brands of his competitors.

Proper product positioning was crucial to the launch's success. But months-long research studies were impractical. "Speed was our mission," Mr. Genese said.

An unusual resource offered by his Interpublic Group of Cos.' advertising agency, the TAG unit of McCann Erickson Worldwide, delivered the market research necessary to get Green Light on a fast-track to market. TAG chief Lori Senecal tapped an often-overlooked resource within the New York office: employees aged 30 years old or younger, and rallied a dozen of them to conduct on-the-street investigations last July in several key Labatt USA markets.

The MU-30s (short for McCann Under 30) interviewed bar patrons, bartenders and folks in the beer trade for insight into the low-carb phenomenon and brand-positioning opportunity. "We used the street-team findings as a filter," Mr. Genese said. "They were a first step in deciding which positioning ideas to test."

The findings of the MU-30 team, which were that Green Light should live more in the world of beer than athleticism, led to a positioning of "great beer, great fun, low carbs." That sets the new offering in contrast to Michelob Ultra's fitness positioning.

"There's a feeling from people in bars that they didn't relate to Michelob Ultra. What they want in a beer is fun and great taste, and if you get the low carbs too, that's great," Ms. Senecal said. The findings help lead to the tagline, "You've got the Green Light." The beer rolled out nationally Oct. 1.

large supply

Today the MU-30s opinions, investigations and input are increasingly being used in numerous ways for various TAG clients, which include Cadbury Schweppes' Dentyne and Microsoft's Xbox. Throughout the fall, McCann expanded the group beyond an informal team working in the agency's New York headquarters, and just last month the agency initiated a global recruitment drive to encourage participation from any of its 300 offices in 132 countries. Additionally, every new McCann Erickson under-30 employee receives an invitation to join. A Web site connects all MU-30 participants, offering a bulletin board for interacting.

"This is an opportunity to engage our large supply of young people," Ms. Senecal said. "It gives them a change to participate right at the outset of their careers." To understand the role music plays in the lives of young adults, the MU-30s kept a blog recording how, when and why music intersected their lives; for another client, MU-30s discussed their favorite leisure activities.

Labatt USA's Mr. Genese appreciates the speed, efficiency and potential savings of the in-house tool. "It is very costly to do research, and this can help to get through to positioning ideas that make sense," he said. The MU-30s contribute in numerous ways, Ms. Senecal said.

Insight into the young-adult population is valuable, said David Morrison, president, consulting firm Twentysomething, "because they are the early adopters and the influencers. Those in their 20s and early 30s are young of heart and mind, but have a bit more money than the college set."

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