Microcarbonated marketing mush

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By Francis Moran

There may be few products more reduced to commodity status than mass-produced beer. (As Monty Python almost said, “Why is mass-produced beer like making love in a canoe? They’re both fucking close to water.” The Python troupe, in the wonderful Hollywood Bowl rendition of their famous “Australian Philosophers Drinking Song,” were actually lampooning American beer, but I think the line holds up.) Still, this doesn’t prevent the big beer companies from constantly trying to introduce new elements they hope will boost their brand’s share of market by a percentage point or two. Who can blame them? Gain even one-tenth of a percentage point in new market share in Canada and you’ve boosted your revenues by some $90 million.

And so we have seen refinements of almost every sort imaginable. Ice beer, dry beer, lime-infused beer, beer in tall cans, cans that tell you when the beer is cold — countless such iterations have come and gone. You know one brewery has tripped onto something that’s working when all the rest pile on.

The latest is Molson Coors Canada’s microcarbonated lager.

Not being a beer drinker, I was first made aware of the advent of this wondrous new beverage when one of my teenage sons — also not (yet) a beer drinker, I hasten to add — pointed to a huge billboard advertising the new stuff and asked me what microcarbonated meant. I told him I was pretty sure it was nothing more than a typical beer company marketing gimmick. But his follow-on questions about why a company would spend what was obviously a lot of money telling people about a new product feature that doubtless lived more convincingly in a headline than it would on the taste buds of beer drinkers got me thinking, too.

So I looked at the website for the new beer, looked at a dozen or so online taste tests of it and polled beer-drinking friends and acquaintances who had tried the stuff. The consensus was that whatever microcarbination was supposed to do, the product was indistinguishable from good old Molson Canadian, the brewery’s flagship product.

So, what was Molson thinking?

The company’s stated objective was to create a premium beer brand but the marketing jury is still very much out on that one.

Here’s my view.

Their tagline, “The world’s only microcarbonated lager” is the kind of powerful unique selling proposition that business schools tell you every product needs. What every USP needs, though, is a genuine value proposition that consumers will buy into again and again. And this new product seems to be lacking that. While many of the folks I polled admitted they bought the beer because they had seen the advertising materials, or when they saw its shiny and distinctive new labelling in the beer store — another consistent beer company marketing tactic is to mix up the labelling and even the packaging every now and again — they probably wouldn’t buy it again because it didn’t deliver on its advertised promise of being something new and different.

There are a few sharp lessons here for technology companies.

  • It’s not what you say your product delivers that matters; it’s what your customers get out of it.
  • It’s not your brand promise that establishes how the marketplace will see you; it’s how well and consistently you deliver on that promise.
  • And it’s not your latest feature that will win the day; it’s the benefit, if any, that that feature delivers to your customers that will create a sustainable competitive differentiation.

Bottom line: Microcarbonated beer may have delivered a powerful marketing line for Molson, one that other beer companies may well emulate in their relentless quest for the tiniest improvement in market share. But unless the promise it conveys actually pans out by way of delivering some kind of value to consumers — and every indication is that it isn’t — it will end up as just one more mushy marketing line on the slag-heap of bad marketing campaigns.

/// COMMENTS

9 Comments »
  • Forest

    April 14, 2011 7:32 pm

    Hi Francis, Forest from Molson here.

    I would love to have the chance to talk to the people you reference in the piece to see which beers they normally would choose, as the feedback we’re getting about Molson M has been fantastic. No beer is going to be universally appreciated, but the process for brewing M has brought us to a beer that is regularly being praised for its quality.

    The accolades aren’t just anecdotal either, as Molson M won the Gold Medal in the North American Style Lager Category at the 2010 Canadian Brewing Awards, beating all comers in a blind taste test that saw over 90 Canadian breweries competing. I would contest that that quality story is the value propositions that you feel is absent. That quality story is what has people coming back to M for repeat purchases.

    In any respect thanks for taking the time to write and thanks to those you spoke with for taking the time to try it.

    Cheers
    Forest

  • Francis Moran

    April 14, 2011 8:49 pm

    I love that you took the time to respond to this post, Forest.

    Congratulations on Molson M’s success at the Canadian Brewing Awards.

    I’d be keen to learn whether that win plus the campaign that caught my attention in the first place have led to an increase in Molson Coors Canada’s overall market share at the expense of its competitors, or whether drinkers of M have simply switched from other Molson brands. What do your data tell you?

  • danny starr

    April 14, 2011 9:04 pm

    I will gladly volunteer to do a blind test. Tough job, but somebody has to do it.

    Just a warning though, might need a few samples… you know, just to be sure…

    D

    Funny though, I didn’t even know about this beer until today!

  • Adam Ghani

    May 15, 2011 11:59 pm

    Microcarbonated……Really, sounds like a marketing ploy to me.

    I drink mainly craft brew products that are mostly bottle conditioned which means the beer goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce the necessary carbonation.

    The beer I drink is always true to style meaning that it’s brewed to the style that it was developed in, for example India Pale Ale or Russian Imperial Stout. Look those up and you will see history once you seek them out and taste the historical flavour.

    Industrializtion has given us many get things but is no ggod for beer. Let’s get back to brewing “real ale” and quite pasturizing and filtering.

    Adam Ghani

  • Forest

    June 08, 2011 12:38 pm

    Hi Adam, missed this comment earlier or would have responded.

    Appreciate your passion for craft brews, as with Creemore and Granville Island we brew some of the best in Canada.

    Agree that people need to be more aware of ‘styles’ of beer as you attest, but would also say that there are beers outside of ‘ales’ which have the same history and pedigree.

    Lagers are also brewed in distinct styles (Pilsner, Bock, etc), and the key difference between the two is the yeast used in fermentation. Ales use top-fermenting yeasts while lagers are brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast. The difference in the yeast style leads to different characteristics in the liquids.

    The best thing about beer is that there are so many varieties, and that the distinctions of ales and lagers give us a wide array of flavours and consistencies.

    Cheers!
    Forest

  • Kyle

    June 12, 2011 10:12 pm

    It’s a marketing ploy and nothing more, and don’t pretend that winning a couple of lager awards at the 2010 CBA means anything. Hardly anyone that is serious about making quality beer even bothers making a lager. Brooklyn Lager is the only exception I can think of. Conviently, Brooklyn Breweries is south of the imaginary line we came up with, where most of the world’s best beers are. Rogue, Stone, Russian River, Dogfish Head, Three Floyds, the list goes on and on. Great Lakes, Unibroue, Dieu du Ciel, and Flying Monkeys don’t even make Lagers.

    Run your marketing campaigns to the general public and make your money and more power to you and all that. I wish you and your company all kinds of success, but don’t pretend this is something it’s not. Not everyone is so ignorant.

  • Kyle

    June 12, 2011 10:54 pm

    Check on Great Lakes. I don’t know how I forgot about the Red Leaf.

  • Gunther Trageser

    July 19, 2011 7:42 pm

    Now, if anything would qualify to be called “microcarbonation” it would have to be capturing CO2 as it is produced during fermentation, one molecule at a time. Of course, most brewers let that escape and re- introduce CO2 later – which they conveniently buy from the petro chemical industry. Do any of you drink champaigne? Taste the difference between methode champagnoise and CO2 injected!!! Molson, not everybody is stupid enough to have their legs pulled.
    And… Why do you even try tro pretend to be what you are not. You are a massproducer of beer, and to be honest, there is a market for that. But please, leave the craft beer market to the craft beer market. You may want to pretend but you are useless at it. And how much extra revenue does it get you anyway?

  • Taking the lean approach to market | Francis Moran & AssociatesFrancis Moran & Associates

    August 26, 2013 11:41 am

    [...] fitting that we follow up last week’s post on the strategic value of marketing in its purest sense as a process for enabling customer validation and iterative product development [...]

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