The Light Stuff
It's a busy night at Govnr's Park, and Monday Night Football blares from every television in the crowded sports bar.
Commercial breaks are usually the perfect time to run to the bathroom or belly up to the bar for another round. But when the Coors Light "Love Songs" ad appears, the Metro State College students gathered around one table perk right up and pay very close attention.
I love football on TV,
Shots of Gina Lee,
Hanging with my friends,
I love burritos at 4 a.m.,
Parties that never end,
Dogs that love cats,
AND I LOVE YOU, TOO!
"I think that they're good commercials," says Brandon Tarbell, a 21-year-old from Albuquerque who's studying industrial design. "I like the snow; I like the bikinis. It's obviously very flagrant, but it's a good campaign, and they're reaching their target market. Me."
Babes, boards and loud rock and roll: This ain't your daddy's Coors Brewing Company.
The new Coors Light ads have been damn near impossible to miss on TV this football season, and you can't head down I-25 or Sixth Avenue without seeing the large billboards featuring blond twins in skimpy tank tops -- and a much, much smaller Coors Light logo. "I drive by those billboards every day," says Tarbell, "and they definitely grab my attention every time."
What do the twins -- 26-year-old Diane and Elaine Klimaszewski, the youngest children of Polish immigrants -- have to do with beer? Absolutely nothing. But they attract -- and how! -- young men, and that's the group that Coors, the nation's third-largest brewer, thought it was missing.
"Our main goal is to engage Coors Light with the 21- to 25-year-old males," says Ron Askew, chief marketing officer for Coors, who has shaken things up since he joined the company in October 2001. "We had lost traction with that group, and I felt that showing that we could fit into their lifestyle was the most effective way to get back in there."
For years, Coors specialized in stately ads starring Chairman Peter Coors, who walked past babbling streams in scenic mountain areas and talked quietly about beer brewed with "Rocky Mountain water" taken directly from a source in the Golden-based brewer's back yard. But then Askew came on board, and Coors announced that it had signed a five-year, $300 million deal to be the official sponsor of the National Football League, and everything changed. Coors advertising -- particularly Coors Light advertising -- has gone from simple and understated to in-your-face and over-the-top, seemingly overnight.
Askew, who'd been vice president of marketing and new business development for Frito-Lay before going on to found the Integer Group, a local advertising agency that had done a lot of work for Coors, immediately yanked the "Ready for a Cold One?" ads, a lighthearted series showing two buddies sitting on a couch, with one pulling a lever to drop a pile of snow, a polar bear or an Eskimo on his friend. He ordered them replaced with more upbeat ads, all featuring active lifestyle shots cut to fast-paced music.
"Our advertising clearly looks different than it did a year ago," says Hilary Martin, group manager of corporate communications at Coors. "Historically, our target market had been 29-plus, but we weren't relevant to 21- to 25-year-olds, which is a critical group that we hadn't developed before. We wanted to be really visceral with that group, be on target with the music, the sociability, hanging out with friends."
Most industry experts agree that by the time the average beer drinker reaches his late twenties, he will have settled on one brand that he'll drink loyally for the rest of his life. That makes it critical to win over the hearts and minds -- and groins, and wallets -- of this younger demographic.
In order to determine the best way to reach this group, Coors researchers hit the town. Askew, a married father of three who lives in Evergreen, spent some serious time in saloons discovering what makes young -- yet legal -- beer drinkers tick. "We went out there and hung out at bars to learn the culture," says Askew. "I want to be close to my consumer, and that's the fun part of my job, sitting there on a bar stool thinking, 'I can't believe that I get paid to do this.'
"We have dramatically increased our research budget so that we can almost anticipate, like the fashion and entertainment industries do, what the next trend will be," he adds. "It all goes so quickly now, you really have to work to stay connected. This is the generation that grew up with computers. They're used to the next upgrade, and they get bored very quickly."
But in the meantime, racy images grab their attention.
Once the basic bar research was finished, Coors enlisted the help of FCB Worldwide. The Chicago-based ad agency found a pair of nicely endowed twins -- and the concept of "Love Songs" was born.
"I thought that it spoke to the truth of how this young culture lives today," says Askew. "They like football on TV, Maxim and FHM magazines, eating burritos. They love staying at parties till 4 a.m."
"We had no idea that it was going to become an anthem that would catch on with the whole country," says Elaine Klimaszewski. "I think the song made the difference. And twins -- it's just so catchy."
"Love Songs" is actually a takeoff on "I Love," a 1973 country song written by Tom T. Hall:
I love little baby ducks,
Old pickup trucks,
I love little country streams,
Sleep without dreams,
Sunday school in May,
And I love you, too.
But you won't find baby ducks -- much less Sunday-school classes -- in the dozen Coors Light ads with the "Rock On" tag line. In addition to "Love Songs," there's "Wonderful World," a new take on Louis Armstrong's hit; "My Favorite Things," which uses the Rodgers and Hammerstein Sound of Music classic; and "Because We Can," featuring the Fatboy Slim song of the same name from the movie Moulin Rouge. That ad asks such questions as "Why do we flirt?" and "Why do we order a large wings when a medium would do?"
"A big part of what we're trying to do is entertain today's adult culture, because if they like you, they will buy you," explains Askew. "That is part of what is helping us gain traction, the whole philosophy of letting them know that our first job is to connect with them."
The marketing industry considers the commercials lifestyle, rather than product, ads. Listening to just the songs, you'd have no idea they were for Coors Light; the only direct reference to the brand comes when the Coors Light logo flashes on the screen for one to two seconds at the end of each ad. "This generation is extremely advertising-savvy. They are quick to tune out what they see as traditional advertising, which is all about the product," says Askew. "To gain credibility with this group, you have to become a cohort -- you have to know how they dress, how they act, what they listen to. Then you earn the right to be heard."
Of course, there is one other clue as to what the commercials are selling: All of the pretty partying people are waving Coors Light beer bottles as they dance, tailgate, snowboard and roll around in the snow.
"When I saw the first commercial in the campaign, I thought it was tongue-in-cheek, a spoof. It was so incredibly politically incorrect," says Kathleen Kelly, who's taught advertising and marketing at Colorado State University for almost fifteen years. "I was completely taken aback and shocked."
Last fall, Kelly and a colleague published a study that concluded that cigarette and beer advertisements with images of attractive people enjoying themselves had far more of an impact on teenagers than text-only ads. "This is definitely a new strategy for them, and they probably think that they're being bold and courageous to put this campaign out there," Kelly says of Coors. "But ultimately, my concern is that Coors isn't being as responsible as they have been in the past. Advertising has a great deal of impact, much more than we realize at a conscious level. They shape us, our morals and our society. I don't know if Coors sees the long-term consequences of this."
Using glamorous, sexy people to increase alcohol sales is hardly a novel concept, however. "Sex has long been used to sell beer," says Hillary Chura, who covers the beer industry for Advertising Age. Most beer ads are "aspirational," she explains. "You don't have fat, ugly people in beer commercials. You want guys to say, for example, 'Hey, if I drink Miller Genuine Draft, I'll get those hot women.' And you want women to think, 'If I drink this beer, I'll look like those hot women.'"
Beer companies are notoriously tight-lipped regarding their advertising and marketing budgets. But according to CMR, a company that tracks advertising spending, in 2001 Anheuser-Busch Companies spent $464.3 million on measured media, Miller Brewing Company spent $242.8 million, and Coors spent $202.1 million.
"When it comes to the competition, Coors doesn't have tons and tons of money to spend relatively, so they have to get the most bang for their buck," says Chura. "But Coors is definitely becoming more aggressive."
Aggressive not just in buying advertising, but in filling the company's commercials with top talent. Current Coors ads -- shot by such high-profile directors as Michael By and Spike Lee -- feature stars like Dr. Dre, Doug E. Fresh, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Kid Rock and Charles Barkley.
And Elaine and Diane Klimaszewski.
"It seems like Coors was really great at reaching the older consumer, but they finally found the magic in reaching the younger consumer," says Elaine. "People are really aware of and paying attention to the commercials."
She and her sister are frequently accosted by adoring fans, and they have nothing but good things to say about Coors (although they won't say anything at all about how much they were paid for the spots). "We do love it," says Diane. "Good times right now, good times. We hope the relationship continues. It's a blast. It's like one big rock concert."
Diane and Elaine admit that they don't drink a lot of beer. But when they do, they say -- in unison! -- that it's Coors Light.
Coors isn't staking its future entirely on hormone-crazed young men. It's also actively going after movie-goers and minorities.
"It's not something that is new, and it's not like we're trying to fill a quota, but this is a very important group of consumers for us, as well as to all other marketers," says Paul Mendieta, Coors's ethnic-marketing director for the past six years. "I expect Hispanic and African-American customers to contribute greatly to our new growth -- at least 50 percent. You have to acknowledge the diversity in America. So we have to make sure that we represent their cultural insights in the general marketplace ads. If our general marketing is done correctly, it will influence the ethnic consumer as well."
Last fall, Coors Light sponsored the United States tour of Maná, the hot Mexican rock band, and also ran a contest in which four Latino customers won all-expense-paid trips to the Super Bowl in San Diego this weekend. "There is a very large group of young adult consumers who also happen to be Hispanic," says Mendieta. "They are a segment that is bilingual and bicultural; they enjoy the best of both worlds. We have found a lot of sophistication, so we need to appeal to them, both in our ads directly targeted to run, say, on Telemundo, and also with our general marketing campaigns. Not only has the Hispanic market exploded, it has become a lot more professional."
To target African-American drinkers, Coors Light sponsors several historically black football contests, such as the Bayou Classic Weekend in New Orleans and the Georgia Power Atlanta Football Classic. And an ad called "Expect the Unexpected," which shows Dr. Dre drinking Coors Light on an airplane while composing new beats, has proved to be one of the campaign's biggest hits. "With the popularity that this gentleman has, we knew that it would cross over and go beyond just the African-American consumer," says Mendieta. "We want to do a full mix of marketing that appeals to people across the board."
"Some of the celebrities that we've gone with have given us credibility to a lot of demographics a lot more quickly," agrees Askew, who says "Expect the Unexpected" is one of his favorite ads. "Dr. Dre has really improved our urban coolness, and Kid Rock has helped with the Southern rockers and people who really like rock and roll."
At one point, Kid Rock helped too much: When a music video showed him buying a six-pack of beer that was clearly Coors Original, the brewer asked him to remove the Coors product and replace it with a generic version. "We didn't want it to appear on MTV and appeal to minors," explains Martin.
Coors is trying to be equally careful with the "unique product placement" guaranteed by the exclusive alliance it inked last fall with Miramax, which calls for Coors products to appear in fifteen select Miramax and Dimension films over the next three years.
"We will be reviewing scripts to make sure that the beer is being used in a responsible way," says Martin. "We're really very sensitive to underage drinking. We don't work with any models or actors who are under 25: You just don't want to take the chance of sending the wrong message."
The first product placement will show up on the big screen this summer. And in the meantime, Coors is working on a contest that will give away walk-on roles in upcoming films to lucky Coors consumers. Coors Light is also now the official sponsor of all Miramax premieres in the U.S. "As the exclusive malt beverage for Miramax, we're expecting a high presence at premiere parties and on the red carpet at events like the Golden Globes and the Oscars," says Martin.
"We're still your same Rocky Mountain beer company," she promises. "But in order to be relevant to the majority of our consumers, it is important to make some strategic alliances and to identify different opportunities for exposure."
According to Beer Marketer's Insights, beer drinkers between the ages of 21 and 27 account for more than 25 percent of all beer sales in the $60 billion industry. The industry leaders -- Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors -- are fighting hard for every customer, but fighting particularly hard for younger drinkers who will stick around.
"The top three brewers account for 80 percent of the U.S. market," says Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketer's Insights. "Coors has gone more high-profile and more contemporary. They're making a very obvious move to try and reach younger drinkers."
Coors Light's third-quarter numbers for 2002 showed a slight improvement, with sales up 2 to 3 percent in the U.S. At the same time, the company posted consolidated net sales of $1 billion, a 57.8 percent increase over 2001. That growth, though, comes primarily through additional earnings from Coors Brewers Limited, the British brewer that Coors acquired from Interbrew S.A. last February, and includes brands like Carling, Worthington and Reef.
In terms of total market share for beer sales in 2001, Bud Light accounted for 16.7 percent, with regular Bud running a close second, at 16.3 percent. Coors Light came in third at 8.1 percent, and Miller Lite placed fourth with 7.7 percent, according to Beer Marketer. But this past November, a survey of 600 beer consumers by Morgan Stanley showed that Coors Light had "improved its health across several key metrics that are leading indicators" of better trends. The percentage of consumers who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "My friends and I will likely drink more of this brand" increased to 38 percent from 34 percent; 58 percent agreed or strongly agreed that Coors Light is "for a younger crowd," up from 49 percent last year.
"Coors has definitely generated a lot of excitement among their wholesaler network, and even their competitors are acknowledging that something is happening," says Steinman. "They're starting to gain traction, but this is something that is going to take a while."
Coors will release complete numbers for 2002 early next month.
But first, the twins -- and Coors Light -- are headed for the Super Bowl.
After a heavy ad buy throughout the playoffs, Coors is planning a big weekend in San Diego to cap off "Last Team Standing." That national promotion includes retail displays plastered with the NFL logo, free commemorative posters and "Countdown to Super Bowl" Coors Light radio spots -- all tagged with "official beer of the NFL."
Coors will not reveal how much it's spending on Super Bowl advertising, but according to ABC, the average thirty-second Super Bowl slot is selling for $2.2. million. And the game is only part of the Coors Light campaign for Super Bowl weekend.
"The NFL partnership is one of the most important things that we've done to build credibility with retailers, distributors and consumers," says Askew, "because it hits on all three buttons at once. It delivers instant credibility. It is truly one of the biggest steps that the company has taken to win."
Coors Light will be the drink of choice -- and the only beer -- at official NFL tailgate, hospitality and commissioners' parties, as well as at the NFL Experience, a downtown San Diego theme park designed by the NFL specifically for football fans.
The twins will host their own Maxim party, where select fans can meet the Klimaszewskis. "People definitely get excited when they see us in person," says Elaine. "It's been an incredible ride, and we're just trying to have fun with it."
They plan to watch the game, too. "We're not fanatical or anything about football," Diane says, "but we do enjoy the sport."
Back at Govnr's Park, the twins are still a hot topic.
"They shouldn't be making out," says 22-year-old Andrew Parkman, Tarbell's roommate and also a Metro State student. "It's wrong. They're sisters."
For the record, the twins do not kiss in the commercial where they appear to lock lips. But they do frolic and flaunt themselves and all the fun they're having, closing with a cheerful toast to good times.
"Being able to wrap it all up with a toast at the end, we're able to get away with less," Askew says. "Sometimes less is more. It's kind of like when you whisper, people listen to you more than when you yell. And that's exactly what we're trying to do with this group: get them to listen."