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The explosive growth of Corona Extra beer demonstrates that two marketing heads might work better than one.

For the last 10 years, two companies have marketed the Mexican brew in the U.S.

While each importer supports the beer's national advertising effort, they run their own regional programs, including promotions in their Hispanic markets.

Some might consider that a schizophrenic strategy. Indeed, one of Corona's U.S. marketing chiefs concedes that cooperation isn't always easy.

"There's differences of opinion, but they're not that hard to work out," says Ron Christesson, 45, director of marketing for Gambrinus Co., which markets Corona in states east of the Mississippi River as well as Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.

Corona is cruising. During 1996, sales shot up 35.7% to 28,885 cases, according to Impact Databank.

Marketing has been a key part of the beer's success since it suffered a slump in the late 1980s, as has stable pricing.

Perhaps one reason the two companies have been able to collaborate is because their advertising theme has been stable over the years.

"It's fun, sun and beach," says Timm Amundson, 40, brand manager at Barton Beers, the other importer. "The message is timeless."

Indeed, the two executives say, last year's success was the fruit of staying on-message for years, as well as continuing a more recent practice of marketing to the Latino communities in their territories.

"You take what you have and start doing it over and over until you get results," Mr. Christesson says.

As in other previous years, the 1997 ads focus on kicking back at the beach. They were created by Lois/EJL, Chicago.

The importers hope to improve their results by spending more on the ads. This year, the two will contribute a total of $6 million for a national campaign, and Gambrinus plans to spend up to $4 million within its territory while Barton may

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