Defensive Strategy

Coors Light Iced Tea

9 Mar 2012  

This week the Chicago Tribune reported that Molson Coors will be introducing a number of new products including Coors Light Iced Tea. You can read the article here:,0,3634860.story

The goal is to build sales through innovation so that the company doesn’t have to rely so heavily on cost reduction projects to drive profit growth.

This makes sense. Cost reduction projects are fine but a company can’t rely just on margin enhancement to build profits long-term. You can only trim costs so far. New products can build profits on a more sustainable basis.

But I’m rather worried about that Coors Light Iced Tea idea.

My assessment: it has a basic branding problem. One of the key questions in brand positioning is frame of reference. It is important to establish precisely what a brand is. For example, BMW is a type of luxury car, Tylenol is a type of pain reliever and Lipitor is a type of cholesterol medication. Coors Light? That is a type of mainstream beer. Coors Light Iced Tea? That just doesn’t make sense.

– When would one drink Coors Light Iced Tea: a beer occasion or an iced tea occasion?

– What would it taste like? I suspect it would taste like beer, right? But maybe it would taste like iced tea. I haven’t any idea.

– Will it be carbonated? Beer generally is, so I guess so. But iced tea usually isn’t, so perhaps not.

It is possible to change the frame of reference for a brand. Mixing two different frames is rarely a good approach. I salute the focus on new products at Molson Coors but I think the team should spend a bit more time on new product positioning.

6 Responses

  1. Removal says:

    I am sure that any occasion is suitable for Coors Light Iced Tea and that everybody just loves it, at least I do!

  2. Tim, I liked the post and the comments. I am wondering if the brand confusion is amplified in this case mainly because it is a consumable product? It could be prominent in CPG products, it looks like. Some high-tech products/services don’t seem to have such issues. For example, Samsung has literally innumerable products, starting from micro-electronic parts to large size TVs.

  3. Geoff says:

    Thanks for the post Tim. I’m curious to get your opinion on how you would resolve this issue. Do you remove the Coors Light brand and create a new brand of iced tea? Do you avoid the iced tea category all together and pursue innovation closer to your frame of reference? Do you buy an iced tea competitor and leverage their equity? My thought is the solution starts with a deep dive into the consumer and understanding if there is any unmet needs in the iced tea category.

    • Tim Calkins says:

      Geoff—The first step is indeed to understand consumer needs.

      I think there are multiple ways to approach the challenge. One option is to introduce new products under the Coors Light brand, items that are clearly beers. Another option is to launch items into the iced team space. This would probably require a different brand, one that fits in that market. Yet another option is to create an entirely new sort of drink, so a new frame. This is very difficult but high potential if it works.


  4. Brandy says:

    Thanks for writing about this Tim. I had to chuckle. Coors doesn’t seem to get it when it comes to this flavored category. Did they forget about the launched-but quickly-pulled MGG 64 Lemonade last summer?? I wrote about it then; this new attempt at product innovation will make a good follow-up. The focus is on craft beers now; playing the flavored catergory is stepping right into the ring with vodka:

    good article

    • Tim Calkins says:

      Brandy—Loved your comments on MGD 64 Lemonade. Sounds simply awful (both the concept and the taste).

      Mixing distinct product categories (lemonade + beer, iced tea + beer, perhaps next will be milk + beer) seems like a difficult task indeed.


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