(posted 2000, w/ 2001 update)
In Culture Freak Ultra (AKA issue #5) we wrote about marketing 101: "the product life cycle." Ostensibly, every product moves through a series of four life stages: (1) introduction (2) growth (3) maturity and (4) decline and eventual death.
Our discussion applied the product life cycle concept to trends in popular culture and consumerism. To exemplify the concept, we used ZIMA as a model for three reasons:
1) ZIMA "a truly unique alcohol beverage" is a truly stupid product (a friend once described it as "diet sprite you can get drunk on"). It is a flagship of the silliness we all encountered in the mid-90s. Suddenly, every beer went "ice," every chicken went "rotisserie" and everything else in sight simply became invisible!
3) It is owned by Coors the company lauded by lunkheads and loathed by liberals.
Culture Freak dreamed of a new millennia devoid of the dreaded ZIMA. But we have only a year left and for some unknown reason it is still here. Let's take a look at reason number two. When we released Culture Freak Ultra, ZIMA was well into its decline stage. It still is. But its parents just won't let it die. The number of times this brand has been repositioned and retargeted is astronomical considering its short life span of six years. It's a tragicomic loser that has dug deep into the pockets of Coors Brewing Company. Every time they make an assault with ad campaign I am astounded. Hence, I have become increasingly fascinated by this nemesis. So, I did some research. (All of what follows is from secondary sources, with the exception of Securities Exchange Commission public filings I reviewed.) I present to you:
The History of ZIMA
The name Zima means "winter" in Russian (and other slavic languages, including Czech, Polish, and Serbo-Croation) and was created by Lexicon Branding, Inc.
Zima, like wine coolers, hard lemonades, Bacardi Breezers, etc. falls into a product category known to the beverage industry as "alcohol refreshers" (AKA "refreshers" or "alcohol refreshments").
According to Coors, Zima contains 23 kinds of natural flavors, such as malts, hops, lime, lemon and ginger. It contains very little carbonic acid, and because its impurities are removed by a filter during production, Zima consumers are less likely to have the unpleasant experience of a hangover the day after a night of drinking. (So, drink up America, but beware of those &185 calories per 12-ounce serving.)
The reported launch date of this product varies from 1992-94 depending on the source. My understanding is that Zima test-marketed in '92, went regional in '93, and national in '94.
Zima is brewed in Memphis at the only Coors brewery outside of Colorado. The brewery also makes Zima Citrus, Coors Extra Gold Lager, nonalcoholic Coors and Blue Moon Belgian White.
According to the Memphis Business Journal, Zima "is a big hit in Japan"
So, let us begin, year by year.
Rumors spread through the beverage industry that Coors Brewing will introduce a new product and possibly, a whole new category, of alcoholic beverage.
The buzz is confirmed when Coors announces its test launch of a new alcoholic malt beverage named ZIMA Clearmalt. The product has the same alcoholic content as a bottle of beer, is lightly carbonated (with no 'head') and has a hint of lemon-lime flavor. It is meant to be served well-chilled, or over ice. A company source describes it as "tasting somewhat like a gin and tonic." Its primary target market is 21-35 year-old male and female drinkers of white wine, beer and "white goods" (vodka, gin, light rum, etc.).
Coors announces that 'teaser' outdoor ads will appear August 31 in the three selected markets: Sacramento, CA; Syracuse, NY; and Nashville, TN. The teasers will be followed by an assault of TV, radio and outdoor advertising. Product will arrive on test-market shelves September 14.
"Top Ten Signs Your U.S. Senator Is Nuts.
Number 9: Breakfast, lunch and dinner? Zima."
TV spots feature actors substituting the letter Z" for S" in their dialogue. One spot is called "Zuperbowl Zunday."
Coors's strategy is to come up with something 'different' so that they won't have to go head-to-head with larger rivals Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Company. At a time when the beer industry was rife with price slashing promotions, Coors introduces a premium-priced product with no competitors. It aims also to compete with wine coolers but aims at a more adult (i.e. less sugar-oriented) market. To further its "unique" feel, Coors specifically avoids placing it next to wine coolers and sweet liquor drinks like Lynchburg Lemonade. ZIMA sits on the beer shelf.
Speaking on Coors Brewing Company's marketing focus, Executive Vice President-marketing, Bob Rechholtz, says "ZIMA is the passion for 1993."
ZIMA began its national launch in what we at Culture Freak call the Year of the Clear. Ah yes, the crystal clear year Ivory Clear, Crystal Pepsi (the magnitude of the utter failure of this product was evidenced by the truckload of unused Crystal Pepsi bottles that appeared at the recycling plant where CF contributor Jeff Mammon and Iworked in Cincinatti, Ohio for a truly kick-ass history of this beverage, see "Captain Mike's Crystal Pepsi®© page). Suddenly, everything in sight was becoming invisible! The two of us I joked about the idea of "Clear Beer." Little did we know that our prediction had already come true. Miller Brewing Co. introduced a clear beer product in test markets that April. It failed so miserably in the test phase that I didn't learn about it until researching this article five years later.
ZIMA begins the first phase of the national launch and surpasses Coors's early projections. Women are the main consumers but it achieves success among men as well, to the surprise of industry insiders.
Thirty percent of the U.S. national market has ZIMA on store shelves.
Coors Brewing announce it has received more than 200,000 phone inquiries about ZIMA Clearmalt brand since its September, 1992 introduction. The data culled from these phone calls leads Coors to develop "a relationship marketing program targeted to ZIMA drinkers in different regions of the country... The hotline is averaging 20,000 calls a month from consumers. Sixty percent of the callers are male." (Brandweek)
Distribution enters 40 more markets.
ZIMA announces ads targeting African American and Hispanic consumers will roll out in January, 1994. Sales have declined sharply in the initial test markets and have begun to flatten elsewhere. Still, Coors states that it "isn't a fad" and that it "has shown tremendous potential." To Coors's credit, ZIMA sells as well as Budweiser in some markets.
"Top Ten Signs You Are a Shopaholic.
Number 3: You've even bought some of that Zima stuff."
At some point during 1993, the Glass Packaging Institute bestowed upon ZIMA its much coveted 'Clear Choice' award for advancement in the glass container industry.
National rollout of ZIMA is complete.
: Stroh introduces "Clash," targeted at younger consumers and packaged in clear bottles with a quirky, retro package design.
ZIMA rumors abound. One perpetuated myth is that ZIMA doesn't show on a Breathalyzer test. Another, that ZIMA actually contains no alcohol. To test this, a Maryland policeman drinks several bottles ZIMA while another officer monitors his blood alcohol level. The demonstration, which is broadcast on local TV news stations, proves that ZIMA does, in fact, contain alcohol. Critics assert that ZIMA encourages underage drinking. Coors responds with t-shirts that say "I.D. Pleaze" and "Adult Humanz Only."
ZIMA launches a new ad campaign. "The quirky guy with the hat" (which I don't actually remember) is gone. Slow motion, black-and-white footage of people in people in quirky social settings is set to music, with no dialogue or voiceover. The company claims that ZIMA outsells Samuel Adams, Rolling Rock and Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers.On the other hand, a backlash to the New Age beverage movement is seen among some young consumers. "ZIMA Zucks" T -shirts appear. Also downtown-newspaper restaurant critic in New York calls Coca-Cola's Fruitopia "colossally misguided" and "a sign of real desperation."
Meanwhile, a second bootleg ZIMA hits the market. Miller Brewing Company opens Kettle Moraine Beverage Co. to launch its clear malt entrant, called "Qube", in two test cities: Providence, RI, and Sacramento, CA. Miller does not support Qube with advertising. Cube-shaped POP displays are the only promotion. (It appears that there were other ZIMA clones but I can't confirm the dates Gallo's "Kypler's" and Pabst's "Izen Klar".)
ZIMA launches a Web site and prints the Internet address on bottles to spark intrigue. It is one of the first attempts by a packaged-goods company to explore Web marketing. The gate page of the ZIMA site features the words ZIMA.COM superimposed over a "dude friendly" visual. This image is changed every two weeks. The digital branding is constructed to look different from its TV and print ads, because they want to boost consumption among males. Consumers are invited to write ZIMA, join a club called Tribe Z and learn facts about the brand. Among other tidbits of brand info, ZIMA refutes the rumors that it does not show up on a breathalyzer test. A feature of the site is the never-seen character named Duncan, a twenty-something Web surfer. In-house and contracted marketing teams write the chapters of Duncan's life. The creative director of the Internet ad agency involved is quoted as saying "we are using Duncan as ... a navigational device to get the consumer to understand some critical things about the brand. We're trying to get ZIMA to have equanimity to beer within their minds." (Yeah, uh, huh.)
The Web site for Universidade de Brasilia Departamento de Engenharia Mecânicane (University of Brazil's Department of Mechanical Engineering) notes that "one of the most awful beverages ever created by marketroids, now has an equally awful Web site." I kid you not.
Zima, and its "Zomething Different" ad campaign was easy to make fun of, and the late night comedians like Jay Leno had their way with it. Letterman made so much fun of it in fact that there was a brand backlash. People stopped buying Zima because they became "worried they would look like posers when they tipped the beveled bottle" (Hillary Chura, Advertising Age).
Rumors abound of a ZIMA brand extension in the form of an "amber beverage."
ZIMA Gold is born. Coors tests the rumored line extension to ZIMA Clearmalt in Omaha, NE. and Tucson, AZ. In-store displays are the only promotion for this new "full flavored" ZIMA product that features a hint of bourbon flavor. Coors describes it as a "new-to-the-world distinctive taste that is hardy and full-flavored yet surprisingly smooth and satisfying" (hmm, sounds like a cigarette). "A whole bunch of people who tried Zima said that they liked the concept of a clear malt beverage but didn't like the taste of this product," brand manager Lee says. "They wanted something that had a much stronger taste. So we listened to them and created a product that was oriented to people who like darker, stronger goods, and that's how Zima Gold was born." (Zima Gold contains 5.4% alcohol by volume, compared with the Clearmalt's 4.7%.)
"Club ZIMA" is added to ZIMA Web site as part of a campaign to further implant "coolness" into the brand. Meanwhile, Coors Brewing Company still draws fire from groups across the country working to halt underage drinking. They say ZIMA is favored by teens because it's sweet, has as high an alcohol content as beer, and is harder for police and parents to spot than most other alcoholic beverages. Coors denies that ZIMA is targeted at teens. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) pressures to stop using young-looking actors in ZIMA television commercials.
Wholesalers and beer industry insiders say Coors is overspending on ZIMA, sales of which are now flat or in decline. Wholesale orders for ZIMA Gold, are disturbingly low.
"Top Ten Things New York City Cab Drivers Want for Christmas. Number 8: Zima, the clearmalt beverage."
Coors sets out to equate ZIMA with 'alternative' music and lifestyles. Press releases to industry news media state that a Labor Day alternative bash is set to take place on Mud Island in Memphis, home of the Coors subsidiary that makes ZIMA. The teaser tagline for the event, which has yet to be announced to the public is "Think Mud." referencing the dumbass Alt-Woodstock concert from the year before. ZIMA 12-packs come with "Z Uncut," a compilation CD featuring Matthew Sweet, They Might Be Giants, The Stone Roses, and others. $1.85 million is spent on ads in 26 of the 39-publications that make up the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. The ZIMA ads promote bands selected by each weekly's staff.
ZIMA Gold goes national. Bottles feature the logo ''Zomething Bold'' and the product is targeted to men 21 to 29, which has become a weak market for ZIMA ClearMalt. ZIMA Gold's alcohol content is 5.4%, higher than regular ZIMA's and about the same as most 'ice' beers. The tagline for Gold is "Kiss Your Expectations Goodbye," and ads feature camping, pickup basketball and other testosterone-oriented visuals. One print ad states "IT'S NOT just a dark version of the original. IT DOESN'T taste like beer (so get over it) & IT WON'T remind you of anything else. Don't say we didn't warn you." Some beverage industry insiders say that ZIMA is beginning to just look 'gimmicky.' (Umm...yeah).
In response to wholesalers' weak response to ZIMA Gold, Coors offers them a 'shared risk' policy, guaranteeing full refunds on unsold cases as of August 13. The catch is that the wholesalers must take a 'strong sell' approach to retailers. They must have shipped every last case of Gold to retail outlets by the July 4 holiday weekend, or no refund. Some wholesalers are bumming when Coors sticks them with volume levels of up to twice their intitial orders. One wholesaler is quoted as saying`orders were very low, so they force-fed us lots of inventory.'
Coors . It cancels the Labor Day "Think Mud" alternative concert because it is not "materializing as expected." While the event had never been announced to retailers or the public, now they have to come up with something to justify the thousands of bottles on store shelves that say "Think Mud" on them. Duh. 'Ideas' range from having some kind of mud wrestling thing to announcing a Multi User Dungeon (M.U.D.) addition to the ZIMA Web site (?) [Unfortunately, I have no clue what they ended up doing].
Coors announces that ZIMA sales had dropped a whopping 48% since its launch, lowering Coors's sales volume down 6.3% across the board. Weak repeat business is to blame, but CEO Peter Coors blames the decline on natural market trends that occur after a brand has been national for a year. "Increases in aluminum costs and the significant challenge of overlapping last year's ZIMA national expansion made year-to-year comparisons especially difficult for our company in the first half of 1995." (Uh, huh.) Wall Street calls upon Coors to cut ZIMA spending and focus on Original Coors and Coors Light, while BRANDWEEK asks the question, "Is it possible that the fizz has already left Coors Brewing Co.'s ZIMA?" Culture Freak answers, "You bet!"
Coors kills ZIMA Gold. End of story. Or is it? In late 1996 or 1997, a friend and I were beer browsing at our local Manhattan bodega one that that had LOTS of different brews, including about fifteen Belgian brands alone. Sitting in the cooler amongst the microbrews and imports, was a sad-looking six-pack that was absolutely covered in dust. It was the only object in the entire store that was dusty, in fact. Indeed, it turned out to be a six-pack of ZIMA Gold. I had never heard of ZIMA Gold and, in fact, aside from conducting research for this article, this incident was my only encounter with the product. "That must be another product failure," I thought. Boy was it. The lonely six-pack must have been about two years old.
BRANDWEEK calls ZIMA Gold "one of the more spectacular recent new product failures in the beer industry."
Coors states that it may introduce a berry-flavored ZIMA. Wholesalers had previously asked Coors to make fruit-flavored ZIMA extensions rather than the 'hearty' Gold, because people were supposedly mixing ZIMA with fruit juices and sodas in their own homes. Basically, Coors hadn't done this because they didn't want ZIMA to be associated with wine coolers.
As suggested by the idea of a berry-flavored, Coors gives up on its "unique beverage" positioning and decides to start 'milking' the ZIMA brand. They stop looking for male consumers and go back targeting females. To do this, their marketing efforts focus on supermarkets. Coupons for $1.50 off six-packs are sent to the stores, and promotional communications encourage women to mix ZIMA Clearmalt with juice. Coors encourages stores to place ZIMA in their wine cooler sections, and in some markets they even put ZIMA four-packs of eight ounce bottles to complete the picture. TV ads are announced which are to be played during shows with high female viewership: Melrose Place, Friends and Mad About You, while print ads are planned for Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue.
"Top Ten Santa Pick-up Lines."
Number 6: Buy you a Zima?"
Despite continuing decline Coors states it is not yet ready to let ZIMA go, and that while it is targeting women again, their ads will "be careful not to antagonize male consumers." Further rumors of fruity ZIMA abound, and the names "Strawberry ZIMArita" and "Blender Bender" are mentioned.
The TV campaign previously announced to woo women are released: Three spots feature the new tagline 'Change Where You're At' In one, entitled 'Minneapolis,' "a sophisticated businesswoman waits in an airport cocktail lounge since her flight to Minneapolis has been delayed. Frustrated, she orders a ZIMA.An announcer calls a flight to Paris over the intercom. The next scene shows the woman speaking French to an airline crew as she boards the Paris flight. In another ad, a glamorous woman in a 1930's style nightclub sips a ZIMA at the bar. She gestures to the bartender that she wants to buy a ZIMA for a man a few seats away. In the next scene, the two have gone off together." (BRANDWEEK, June 24, 1996)
An Advertising Age article says of ZIMA: "With the flavor of a slightly carbonated wine cooler and just a hint of Lemon Pledge, the stuff may get sampled by women all summer and still yield for Coors only another brutal Zima of discontent." [editors note: remember "zima" means winter]
ZIMA tests new fruit-flavored Zima in Knoxville, Richmond, Norfolk, Omaha, Indianapolis, Boise and north Texas. The flavors are berry and citrus, but the drink remains clear, just like mama used to make.
By year's end, Coors has spent $38 million on ZIMA ads (source: Competitive Media Reporting), while Zima sales had shriveled to 450,000 barrels down more than 60% from 1.2 million barrels in 1994.
Coors Senior Vice President marketing, Bill Weintraub, begins to oversee the Zima brand, and Coors targets the male market for ZIMA with ads that coin the new tagline: "A Few Degrees Cooler." After a year of interloping in the wine cooler segment with its tail between its legs, ZIMA is suddenly tagged as a dude drink. Gone are the fruity ZIMA drinks, and male targeted promotions include contests to win trips to sports fantasy camps in early 1998. Winners have a choice of basketball, baseball, auto racing, golf or tennis camps, and vote for the sports celebrity they want to meet when they participate in "sports fantasy." Weintraub's takeover will eventually prove to be Zima's salvation, though sales would never recover to the 1994 numbers.
"Top Ten Signs You Are a Bad Surgeon General.
Number 1: Your cure for heart disease is Zima."
ZIMA sales continue to decline, but the ads still speak testosterone. One spot, entitled "Sticky Shoes'', centers around a guy who walks on his wall and ceiling. The scene opens on two GenX guys in their apartment on a hot, sticky summer day. 'They sit, dazed and sweaty, as an overhead shot reveals a slowly turning ceiling fan above. One of the guys heads to the fridge, his Teva sandals sticking to the floor with each step. He leans to grab a bottle of beer but, as the ceiling fan grinds to a halt, changes his mind and instead takes out a ZIMA. He kicks the refrigerator door shut, only to find the bottom of his shoe stuck like gooey glue to the door. At first, he struggles to pull it free, but then a subtle look of enlightenment crosses his face as he decides to walk up the wall to fix the fan. His roommate and dog look on in bemusement as he heads for the ceiling and, hanging upside down, pours himself an ice-filled glass of the bubbling beverage. The cool, refreshing drink quenches his thirstfrom head to toeas he assumes a horrified expression, realizing his shoes are now loosening from the ceiling. From a floor-level shot looking upward, we see the guy hurtling towards the ground. A quick cutaway product shot, accompanied by the "ZIMAa few degrees cooler," tagline is followed by a final wide shot, which shows the guy sprawled facedown on the floor as the ceiling fan blades begin to move again.' (BRANDWEEK June 13, 1997). This ad, and others in the campaign, are targeted at "the newest crop of legal-age drinkers" who may not have heard of ZIMA. The strategy is lost on me What, they think these dudes didn't drink or watch TV when they were in high school? If they didn't drink it, it seems they surely knew someone (likely a girl) who did.
Coors Brewing tests a new citrus formulation of ZIMA, called Citrix, in Nashville, Phoenix and Florida.
Not too much happened that year. But for some reason, as of October, the ZIMA extension Citrix was supposedly faring well in test markets. Meanwhile Coors Senior Vice President Bill Weintraub grew ZIMA sales simply by adding a blue tint to the bottle and launching those TV ads where ZIMA's "cool, refreshing, crisp" identity is delineated by some dork's face sticking to a pole.
I don't get it. Back in 95-96 I was sure ZIMA would be gone. But as the milennia approached, the only thing that died was ZIMA.COM. Still, there was hope: ZIMA failed to make it into BRANDWEEK's Superbrands (top 2000 brands) list for the year 1997. Their ranking for 1996 was 1,235, way down from its strong showing of 193 in 1995.
Foote, Cone & Belding produces a Zima commercial where an angry poodle chases a man into a bar on a hot day. After the man downs a cold Zima, the poodle bites him (on the ass if I recall correctly) only to be turned into a frozen dogsicle.
Graphic Packaging Corp. prints holographic labels for Zima bottles for a six-week holiday promotion.
Coors spends $12.6 million on advertising and shifts its target market back to the women's demographic. From Coors Brewing Company's own Demographics of Beer Drinkers: "Zima ... is targeted at women because women prefer a lighter tasting beverage. Zima has a distinctive taste that appeals to women primarily in the twenty-one to thirty-four year old age group. Coors hit the target with Zima. It is a 'clear' winner for the company and it is in a class by itself."
It also made it to the "Worst Beer" list of the KBS-Institute in Finland.
Fort Lauderdale software manufacturer Citrix Systems files a lawsuit against Coors Brewing Co., saying its use of "Zima Citrix" dilutes its registered trademark for software. The suit seeks no monetary damages only an injunction. Coors spokeswoman Lori Varsames is quoted as saying "[w]e believe the two brands can coexist in the marketplace without any confusion or delusion ['dilution' the journalists misunderstood and/or mistranscribed this word]."
Coors settles the lawsuit, agreeing to change the name of Zima Citrix. Citrix Systems's claim of trademark dilution made for a pretty weak case, because quite frankly it is just not a famous enough mark. My guess is that Coors caved because it just didn't want to spend time and money on the litigation. <
Still going ... Several articles appear in the trade journals lauding Zima's return from the dead. Although sales equal to only less than half of 1994 numbers, they have nevertheless increased by about 30% since 1996.
I have no particular statistics to cite for this year, but did find two somewhat humorous tidbits:
Journalist Lenore Skenazy dubs Zima "the other white beer."
Horoscope fromIn Style Magazine: "Libra (Sept. 23 to Oct. 22) You might be tempted to turn an officemate into an office mate after a few Zimas at the company picnic. Try a Fresca instead and you'll thank yourself at the morning meeting."
I gotta say [this] brings back many memories as my friends and I devoured the stuff in our college days. I still have empties of Zima, Z Gold and I think the Berry one I picked up in Indiana.
Just wanted to provide a little more info if it matters or helps:
Izen Klar (a knockoff) was out in 1993 and to be honest was considerably more flavorful than Zima. Z Gold was a lot like Jack and 7-up godawful stuff. . .
One running joke of sorts among my friends was a twisted future where my Zima-addicted friend opened up a network called Zima Broadcasting. I even went so far as to make some logos and history as part of the gag. I was pondering making a Webpage just as a goof...I still might if I get the time and motivation.
- Frank Doosey
I read your article on the ill-fated Zima Gold. I know that it is a long shot, but I am desperate for a bottle of the Gold for my collection. Do you have any resources that you would be willing to pass on to me so that I may locate a full bottle or two?
Sadly, I could not provide Ryan with his elusive Gold bottle, but inquired about his collection: "Zima bottles only, or a collection of beverage containers in general?"
My bottle collection is just of unopened beer bottles. I have most of the rare ones like Miller Clear Beer, Sam Adams Millennium and '95 Triple Bock, and all of the Celis styles. In all, I have about 500 bottles. The only one that has consistently eluded me is Zima Gold.
Miller Clear Beer? I had no idea. Thank you Ryan for the photo
Adweek (BPI Communications)
Advertising Age (Crain Communications)
Brandweek (BPI Communications)
Broward Daily Business Review
Competitive Media, Inc.
Impact Databank, N.Y.
Information Resources, Inc.
The Legal Intelligencer
Memphis Business Journal
National Association of Convenience Stores
National Drug Strategy Network (ndsn.org)
National Petroleum News
The New York Times
Prepared Foods magazine
The Rocky Mountain News
Visit our Zima Police Blotter, a collection
of crime news stories involving Zima Clearmalt
ZIMA Links A fun Advertising Age Article
Conspiracy Online's perspective
The Webtender's Recipes for Drinks Using Zima
A somewhat strange review of a Zima commercial by ComedyZine.com
Random ZIMA Quotes
"We think ZIMA has the capability to broaden consumption" CEO Peter Coors "We're not in the beer business. We're in the social mood amelioration business." Bob Rechholtz, Executive Vice President-Marketing. Best BRANDWEEK titles for ZIMA articles
(and the inspiration for our own)
"Coors's Rizky Trade Deal Zpells Trouble"