What’s driving Molson Coors’ record-setting marketing plays

It’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle. It’s harder to do it twice – or more.

But such was the case last month when, in a span of 12 days, Molson Coors’ brands launched a trio of record-setting marketing programs — including its most-talked-about ever — that together garnered more than 6 billion earned media impressions.

Brands like Coors Light and Miller Lite are no strangers to big marketing pushes, but the three programs – Blue Moon Brewing Co.’s Pie Pints, Coors Light’s Chill Polish and Miller Lite’s Christmas Tree Keg Stand – were examples of surgically precise activations that helped achieve one of Molson Coors Chief Marketing Officer Michelle St. Jacques’ main goals: “We are building brands that people want to hang out with.”

The programs cut through the dense wall of noise consumers face and helped grow awareness of the brands and what they stand for, St. Jacques says. And they’ve helped Molson Coors accelerate sales as the company seeks to build on a streak of momentum in which its grown volume share of total beer in the U.S., according to IRI multi-outlet and convenience store data for the 13 weeks ended Nov. 27.

St. Jacques describes her team’s approach as a mixture of art and science, predicated on making big – but smart – bets that aim to elbow Molson Coors’ stable of brands into the broader conversation. If they hit, as this fall’s have, the payoff is real.   

“There are places we choose to take swings, because if we hit and land it in culture, the rewards will be disproportionate,” she says.

She stresses that these so-called brand acts are only part of Molson Coors’ total marketing program. Balancing these culture-driving acts with a data-driven approach on paid channels helps to ensure programs “really move our brands forward,” St. Jacques says.

Here’s an inside look at how “MSJ” and her team pulled off a holiday trifecta.

They brought a unique point of view

Since St. Jacques was tapped to lead Molson Coors’ marketing efforts in 2019, she’s pushed forward a philosophy that has defined a clear purpose for each brand, as well as a point of view through which all marketing and messaging flows.

“We’re going to directly express what our brands stand for in a way that only makes sense for that brand at that moment,” she says.

It’s a mantra that provides clear guidelines and guardrails for marketers, but also sets brands apart to make it easy for consumers to know what a brand stands for and why drinkers should reach for them.

So it made sense for Miller Lite to follow up last year’s immensely popular Beernaments promotion with a new holiday innovation for no-frills beer drinkers: the Christmas Tree Keg Stand, a tree stand that fits a keg.

The Keg Stand delivered, becoming Molson Coors’ most-talked-about marketing program ever by earning more than 4 billion media impressions.

Its success, St. Jacques says, was grounded in its commitment to Miller Lite’s identity as a beer for beer lovers. “Only if you are truly a ‘beer’s beer’ brand would you launch Beernaments or the Shoezie or the Keg Stand to honor the love of beer,” she says.

Blue Moon came next, fusing the beer’s iconic orange peel garnish with a social media trend.

“When you think about Blue Moon beers, you think about the orange peel ritual, its elegant glassware and an elevated experience,” St. Jacques says. “There was an opportunity to seize that unique brand experience but give it a twist during the holiday season – and this time bring the full family of brands together for the ride.”

Thus was born Blue Moon Pie Pints, tiny desserts designed to pair with the flavors of Blue Moon’s Belgian White Belgian-style wheat ale, Moon Haze IPA and LightSky. The Pie Pints arrived just in time for Thanksgiving, a special occasion that calls for an elevated beer.

The result was Blue Moon’s most-talked-about marketing program in its history, St. Jacques says, earning more than 1 billion media impressions, according to internal third-party data collected on behalf of Molson Coors.

They won with ‘small and mighty’ brand acts

Playing off Coors Light’s famous color-changing blue mountains, the brand created “Chill Polish.”

The nail polish changes from gray to blue as temperatures get colder — just like the mountains that grace Coors Light’s cans and bottles.

“We took something that makes Coors Light stand apart and connected it with a new audience,” St. Jacques says. “It was a perfect opportunity to do something small and mighty. A small idea with mighty buzz potential.”

Chill Polish was a hit, landing in publications like Cosmo and CNN and on influential social media accounts like Baller Alert, which boasts more than 7 million followers. It was another offbeat stunt that vaulted the brand into the cultural zeitgeist, joining two other recent marketing programs, Chillboards and the Coors Light Flashlight.

And it highlighted how a small idea can play into a brand’s larger narrative, in this case, echoing Coors Light’s “Mountain Cold Refreshment” and its overall "Made to Chill" positioning.

“Within the span of a week and a half, we launched three ideas that could only have been done by those brands,” she says. “They directly express what those brands stand for in a way that only makes sense for that brand at that moment.  

Miller High Life got into the game as well, introducing its creative leg lamp beer tower, an homage to the holidays that wouldn’t be out of place in the dive bars where The Champagne of Beers is so often found. Fans made the connection with an iconic holiday tradition and bought up all the limited-edition leg lamp beer towers – in 20 seconds. The media campaign earned 1.6 billion impressions.

“These mini-moments drive momentum,” St. Jacques says.

They were talkers

Outlandish, off-the-wall and perfectly in line with how consumers perceive the brands, the holiday programs accomplished exactly what they were designed to do: They got people talking.

Baked goods to garnish your beer? Perfectly weird. A tree stand that fits a keg? On brand, weird. Color-changing nail polish? Cool, weird.

And Miller High Life’s leg lamp beer tower? Laugh-out-loud weird.

They generated buzz because, yes, they were unexpected, but they each fit the brand’s point of view – and the moment, St. Jacques says.

“You can’t just do something for the sake of doing it. How do we do something unique that stands out and makes sense for the brand and moves it forward? That’s the challenge,” she says.

For all the uncertainty around what will land and what won’t, make no mistake: St. Jacques and team have a plan. From a birds-eye view, launching programs around pies, beauty regimens and keg stands seems incongruous. But zoom in and it’s clear that marketing programs that hit the right message in the right venue at the right time are helping build consideration – and momentum – for Molson Coors’ core brands.

“Strengthening our core brands doesn’t happen by accident,” St. Jacques says. “It’s a disciplined process defining what our brands stand for and finding moments and ways to bring that to life.

“That’s where the magic is.”