Saturday, October 26, 2013

“A Letter to Molson”

c. 2013 Rod Ice
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Installments of Thoughts At Large have often been inspired by everyday events.
This column has sometimes contained works of fantasy, historical information, old news reports, cultural oddities or sociological analysis. Yet its most dependable foundation has always been the unadorned retelling of a factual story.
A recent event proved this truism, once again.
As I went to my local Giant Eagle to purchase adult beverages and snacks for a bit of sports-time enjoyment, a sense of regret took hold. It was when I looked for a familiar friend crafted from aluminum, the Molson XXX “oil can.”
This sturdy cylinder had been a familiar sight on local shelves for many years. Though I normally prefer brewed refreshment in glass bottles, this particular libation tastes most authentic in the oversized can. A flavor crisp and satisfying.
When tried, the bottled variety only left me with a sense of disappointment.
I was dumbfounded not to see the big can for sale. Some friends actually thought this popular product had been completely discontinued. But soon, I discovered that it had instead been replaced by a downsized 24-ounce can.
Much chatter resounded at my store about the switch. No one seemed happy to surrender that one extra sip of brew. Moreover, the immediate product recognition Molson XXX had enjoyed was gone. Their “me too” design seemed bland and unappealing.
After musing about this change for several weeks, I decided to write the brewery with my own personal perspective. What follows is the text of this letter:

Dear Molson/Coors,

I am a newspaper columnist from Geauga County, Ohio and a long-time retail manager. I have been a fan of Canadian brews for many years, in particular, your Molson XXX in the man-sized “oil can.” Over the past few years, I added this particular product to the selection at my store, just south of Lake Erie, with spectacular results.
We have literally sold pallets of your product to tourists and locals enjoying summer relaxation.
Sadly, I note that you made a decision this year to discontinue the venerable larger can, in favor of a slim new container that mimics the design used by other breweries.
Your product was downsized from 25.4 fluid ounces to 24.
The amount of beer removed from your can might seem miniscule in nature. But its effect was to eliminate the unique and commanding presence you had on my shelf. Now, customers mistake Molson XXX for Labatt Ice, because of the similar profile and black outside color. Many simply purchase Steel Reserve because of an identical size at a lower price.
Speaking bluntly, in marketing terms, you have surrendered your category leadership. Only Foster’s offers a similar “oil can” in my market. Now, they lead in uniqueness and product recognition. You lag behind with a sameness that sends consumers looking elsewhere.
After a brief pause, fueled by discontent, I have reluctantly resumed buying your beverage. But each purchase comes with a hint of sadness. A last “full size” can of your brew remains in my refrigerator as a reminder of better days.
I simply can’t drink it for fear of feeling an old friend has passed.
Sales volume of Molson XXX has dwindled at my store. Customers overlook the slim can in favor of similar offerings by Labatt, Budweiser, Miller, Steel Reserve and Pabst.
Am I making too much of losing 1.4 ounces of liquid refreshment? It seems best to let you be the judge. Yet your lost market advantage is undeniable. At first glance, Molson XXX is now just another brew on the cooler shelf.
Impulse sales are important, especially during the summer months by Lake Erie. And, I suspect, everywhere across North America. They add to the overall mix of factors that make a brand successful.
Molson XXX remains a superior product. As your label boasts, a “super premium beer.” But the strategy of marketing this beverage has suffered for a measly 1.4 ounces. Was it worth the sacrifice, I wonder?
Time will tell. If you have shipped more cases from Canada to the world, then this move can be defended in business terms. But if not, then I ask you to reconsider your old friend, the “oil can.”

Sincere Regards,

After writing my letter, I wondered how many other protests were being sent over this change. Meanwhile, Coors, now part of the company, introduced an old-style “stubby” bottle intended to commemorate their design from 1936. When we substituted this interesting package for our regular six-pack at my store, sales literally exploded.
It provided yet another example of how a bit of marketing could make, or break, a product.

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