Molson Coors’ Busch-League Super Bowl Move

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“My ex just got dumped, I’m gonna propose!” is not something you often hear people say, because people are ruled by forces of pride and self-respect, or at the very least petty vindictiveness. Matters of love are complicated, and beyond our purview here at Hop Take. Matters of beer, on the other hand, are our wheelbrewhouse, and fairly straightforward When you, a large macrobrewer, are presented with the opportunity to buy your first national in-game Super Bowl advertisement in over three decades, you do not go for a long walk around your neighborhood, smoke a couple cigarettes, and ponder whether the Big Game deserves you back after its long bout of monogamy with your rival. You snuff out whatever institutional dignity animates your corporate DNA, remind yourself you’ll never do better than this, and you buy that Super Bowl ad. Love is love, but the beer business is business.

What else did you expect Molson Coors to do? The company announced this past summer that for the first time in over 30 years, it had purchased some Super Bowl airtime, newly available thanks to Anheuser-Busch InBev’s decision last year to relinquish its long-held exclusivity arrangement with the National Football League for in-game national beer ads. If the company’s executives had any hang-ups about running right back into the arms of its one-time advertising partner after its big red foe moved on, they sure haven’t shown it. “[T]he decision took us less than a minute,” wrote Molson Coors chief marketing officer Michelle St. Jacques and U.S. sales and distributor operations president Brian Feiro to wholesalers, according to a memo obtained this week by Brewbound. That’s been the standard party line ever since the June 2022 announcement. Ditto this: “After 30 years away, you might say we’re a little excited at the chance to make Super Bowl history.” (Molson Coors did not immediately respond to Hop Take’s request for comment for this column.)

Wince if you must, but the move makes a certain amount of sense. ABI has squatted on the Super Bowl’s beer ad rights since 1989 because they’re valuable — and not just as a means for getting in front of massive national audiences all experiencing the same event in real time, either. It’s an old saw in the beer business that Super Bowl ads are designed to hype up distributors as much as drinkers. Molson Coors’ middle-tier “system,” just like ABI’s, is operated by people who live in the 100 million households slated to tune in. “One of the things we’ve talked a lot about is both our employee and our system’s pride, and making sure we do an idea that everyone’s going to look at and be excited about,” St. Jacques told Beer Business Daily. Seeing the brands you warehouse and deliver on the Super Bowl screen sends a clear message from your supplier: We’ve got beers people want, and we’re gonna advertise the shit out of them this year. Get ready to move some cases. ABI (and Anheuser-Busch before it) used its long-running Super Bowl rights to set that tone for ages — and create an indelible cultural cachet with generations of American drinkers in the process. No wonder Molson Coors wants a turn with the Big Game bullhorn.

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That calculus checks out. The rest of it… not so much. As refreshing as it is to see a Clydesdale-free company move in on Super Bowl’s most rarified air, Molson Coors is joining ABI on its formerly exclusive field in a decidedly awkward fashion. Revealed this week, the marquee effort in the firm’s comeback casts its two biggest beer brands, Coors Light and Miller Lite, as opponents vying for the parent company’s solitary 30-second ad spot on this year’s Big Game. What? I don’t know! “Figuring out which brand or brands is no simple task,” St. Jacques told the company’s corporate blog. “[W]hen you look at the momentum we have with our premium lights right now, there’s a really good argument for either one to be featured in the Super Bowl.”

This is… underwhelming, right? And sorta weird? A pitched battle for airtime between Miller Lite and Coors Light would be one thing if it was some sort of internal sales contest. Turning it into a whole consumer-facing charade, replete with head-to-head ad buys in The New York Times and how-do-you-do-fellow-kids hashtags (#TeamMiller and #TeamCoors) feels simultaneously like a throwback to the stale online era when people still used “Facebook” as a verb, and a flash-forward to some corporate-friendly future where customers have been disabused of their pesky apprehension about massive conglomerates owning everything they care about.

Maybe Molson Coors executives are betting the average football fan is too, ah, “unsophisticated” to notice that this mock “competition” will take place between brands that look like, y’know, actual competitors in the beer aisle. It wouldn’t be the first time the company bet against the intelligence of its customers, and it may pay off again here. But the whole premise of the gimmick — that the company only bought one 30-second Super Bowl ad that its two biggest brands have to fight over — makes Molson Coors look like ABI’s kid brother on the biggest stage imaginable. Couldn’t they simply, I don’t know, buy more airtime to showcase both the Silver Bullet and The Original Light Beer during the biggest beer-selling event on the calendar? Spots are going for a reported $7 million this year, which ain’t cheap, but is money really that tight at Big Blue after a bold (and mostly successful) pivot to “total beverage” a couple years back? Give your biggest beers their own spots, for chrissakes! Act as if!

The brands’ kayfabe petitions to their corporate parent remind your humble Hop Take columnist of that deliberately cringe web-only spot ABI released a few years ago in which Goose Island Brewing Co. leadership journeyed to New York City to convince the Brazilian brass that their Chicago craft subsidiary was deserving of a primetime spot. Goose wasn’t; Miller Lite and Coors Light, both gaining share on total beer thanks in part to Bud Light’s ongoing identity crisis and Molson Coors’ data-driven and mostly pitch-perfect stunt marketing, definitely are. Speaking of ABI: In 2022 they bought four whole minutes of ads, including a spot for f*cking Bud Light Next, a flailing brand that’s now like one batch of bad scan data away from being sent to a nice farm upstate where it’ll have more room to run and play with its friends Tequiza, Oculto, and Busch Light Apple. After years of sneaking into the conversation with stunts, hacks, and the worst Sims emulator I’ve ever seen, Molson Coors can finally introduce its brands to a Super Bowl audience full of thirsty young drinkers who weren’t even alive last time it had this opportunity, and it’s getting too cute by half. Throw some money around!

While the company’s long-awaited in-game spot will go to either Miller Lite or Coors Light (or both: St. Jacques told BBD that Molson Coors is focused on “one big [Super Bowl] program,” which may signal some sort of kiss-your-sister split ticket come game time), the company will also roll out retail activations like it has in years past for those and other key brands. In 2023, Miller Lite, Coors Light, Coors Banquet, Blue Moon, and Vizzy will get coveted media spending and point-of-sale support from headquarters designed to boost those brands before, during, and after the Super Bowl and set them up with runway heading into 2023’s prime beer-drinking season.

*Conspicuously absent from that roster: Topo Chico hard seltzer and canned cocktails, and Simply Spiked lemonade, Molson Coors’ two buzzy joint ventures with Coca-Cola. What’s up with that? Did PepsiCo, a major Super Bowl partner (and until last year, its longtime halftime show sponsor) kibosh a planned, Molson Coors-abetted encroachment by its rival? Did the biggest of Big Soda concerns take a look at Pepsi’s Hard Mtn. Dew quagmire and decide it’d be better to keep its own soft-to-hard SKUs out of the Super Bowl spotlight this year? Or maybe Coke, which has benched its brands for the past two Big Games and will do so again this year, never had any aspirations to advertise Topo Chico or Simply Spiked on the second Sunday this February. Hmm! (Coca-Cola did not immediately respond to Hop Take’s request for comment.)

As for Miller Lite and Coors Light — the two brands have launched their dueling campaigns, and will run ‘em right up to the Super Bowl itself. At some point between now and then, Molson Coors will announce which beer’s “pick me” energy is more befitting of the placement, which, according to the company’s blog, remains “shrouded in secrecy,” even from the macrobrewer’s board members. OK, sure, whatever! Seems clunky and needlessly cautious, but hey: “Only fools rush in” is something people say. Molson Coors was clearly listening.

🤯 Hop-ocalypse Now

Craft breweries fence-sitting in the increasingly violent American culture war are bound to get some splinters in the ass. Consider the case of Conroe, Texas’s Southern Star Brewing, which this past weekend found itself in the barrel upon canceling the rental contract on a “rally against censorship” that local secessionists had been planning to hold there later this month. Describing itself as “an apolitical organization,” the brewery on Twitter announced the move last Friday following confirmation earlier that week that Kyle Rittenhouse, infamous killer-of-two-turned-aspiring-right-wing grifter, would be in attendance. Like clockwork, threats rained down from the right on the Houston-area brewery, proving yet again that everything is politics, including craft beer, and that brewery owners will get no credit for pretending otherwise.

📈 Ups…

Beer drinkers are buying a bit less but mostly staying brand-loyal in the face of price hikes, says Bump Williams ConsultingNew Belgium Brewery’s iconic-but-struggling Fat Tire amber ale finally got its long-rumored reformulation/rebrand, here’s hoping for a bounceback… Creature Comforts Brewing Company workers in Athens, Ga., go public with a union drive… The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau extended its comment period on alcohol industry trade practice regulations another 90 days, so get posting at your leisure… New Crown & Hops x Allagash Brewing Co. cause-beer soon to comeBojangles x Appalachian Mountain Brewing Co. hard sweet tea is more confirmation that the bigger they are, the harder they’ll tea

📉 …and downs

Taproom workers around the country may be paying for “food-safety classes” that fund the restaurant lobby’s fight against the $15 minimum wage… What in the Marvel Comic Universe-loving f*ck is going on with this Ant-Man x Heineken 0.0 Super Bowl campaign?… Always a buzzkill remembering just how little public-health officials recommend drinking on a daily basisTop “beer” maker Sazerac says former wholesaler Republican National Distributing Company owes it $38 million… Relentless innovation at Molson Coors Beverage Company has forced the phrase “zero-proof canned cocktail” into existence…

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