It should tell you something that nowadays, "Zima" auto-corrects as "Zika."
Still, according to Advertising Age, Zima is poised for a comeback with cases of the stuff already arriving in distributors' warehouses. This second-coming begs the question of what killed the brand the first time. There is some debate about that.
According to none other than Pete Coors--who is quoted in the AdAge article--this is how the brand died...
Zima was created in the early nineties at the behest of Pete's senior marketing executive at the time. In many ways a visionary, this marketing heavyweight wanted to broaden the brewery's business base, so as not to be forever going toe-to-toe with Budweiser and Miller. He challenged the highly qualified Coors technical people to use their considerable skill and creativity. The mission: Create a next-generation, non-beer alcoholic beverage.
Their answer was to brew beer, but in the last stages of the process, to filter out all beer flavor and color. Then, flavoring could be added to the resultant clear, carbonated "base liquid," so the new product could taste however the brewers wanted. Thus, "clearmalt" was born, and while that generic nomenclature never gained any traction, every subsequent "flavored malt beverage"--from Mike's Hard Lemonade, to Smirnoff Ice, to Henry's Hard Soda, and many more--is kin to Zima. Invented in the Coors labs, Zima represents the single most innovative product-development effort ever in the beer business.
Where Pete gets it wrong
As to marketing, Zima's launch advertising was remarkably successful. The "What is it?" curiosity-based premise saw the brand selling 1.3 million barrels in its first year, grabbing well over a share-point of the entire beer category.
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The flavor that had been chosen for Zima performed quite well in pre-launch "first sip" research. But what apparently had not been sufficiently evaluated was the satisfaction after two or three servings in a row. How would drinkers evaluate the product experience after a month or more of routine consumption?
In a comprehensive analysis of the brand's rise and fall, a Bloomberg article from 1997 captured Zima's key failure: "Almost nobody came back for seconds." Every year after its launch, the brand experienced declines.
Not really too clever
To be sure, the errors Pete cited for Zima were marketing mistakes. Ditching the lovely fluted bottle, primarily to save a few cents on glass, would only further erode what little brand loyalty remained. Zima Gold was even worse: an expensive, stillborn line extension. At the convention at which it was first presented, every bottle of the stuff that was served to distributors was just barely sampled. A first-sip disaster.
But both these marketing calls were made late in the brand's life, more as last-ditch Hail Mary shots than well-planned brand-building. It wasn't about marketing people being too clever at that point, but rather, too desperate.
One marketing guy's take
As Pete suggested, this marketing guy blames a faulty Zima product married to successful marketing. But that wasn't a common sin at Coors. In fact, other Coors brands sometimes had it the other way around.
And that leaves us with three "marketing guy" truths to mull over:
1. Bad products can't be saved by good ads.
2. Good products can survive bad ads.
3. And a good product with good ads? Well, that's a beautiful thing.
And one more thing: Let's hope the Zima being delivered now has been reformulated.