I recently read an article on the Brewbound website about the demise of a recently released MillerCoors beer called Two Hats. The article was both interesting and amusing, and very much emblematic of Big Beer’s approach to making beer.
Get ‘Em While They’re Young
The goal apparently was to reach a younger crowd, specifically 21- to 24-year-old drinkers, a demographic they have struggled with. In fact, they actually have a name and acronym for this demographic. They are “legal-drinking-age-consumers,” or LDACs. The fact that they even have this acronym speaks volumes about how they approach beer. This younger crowd has been “veering away from beer” towards cheaper wine and spirits. Which, when you think about it, suggests that these younger drinkers are looking for a cheaper way to get their buzz on. So why did MillerCoors think that making a low ABV, low-priced light beer would capture this market?
Marketing to Youngsters
Based on the article, I gather that a big part of their approach was an effort to reach this younger drinking audience through social media marketing. I’m picturing focus groups sitting around looking at ads while ad execs toil over their various reactions. I’m sure teams of designers and copywriters were trying to crack the code that attracts this younger audience and convince them that Two Hats is just the beer for them. And yet from my perspective they were ignoring the most important factor in the equation: actually making a good beer.
Oh Wait, We Need to Make the Beer Too
The actual beer seemed to be an afterthought. I could be totally wrong, and to their credit MillerCoors claims to have tried to make a “great beer at a great low price.” There is much evidence to the contrary, however. They released a 6-pack of 16oz Tall Boys at a $5 price point. Yes, you read that correctly, $5. Keep in mind that most 4-packs of 16oz craft beer Tall Boys start at $15 and go up from there. So, they are selling one third more beer at one third of the price. How can they do that? Some people might argue it’s volume. At the volume they are producing they can bring the price down. I’ll agree that to some extent they can, but not that much. The more logical answer is cheaper, inferior ingredients. I would venture to say that corn or rice make up a good part of the grain bill instead of all barley. And you can be pretty sure they aren’t using high-quality hops like Citra or Mosaic. The idea that you can make a great beer at that price point seems to be just stupid.
What’s in a Name?
And let’s move on to the thinking behind the name. Apparently “the name Two Hats is meant to reference the two hats that young adults wear to balance work and play.” I’m guessing that MillerCoors didn’t get the memo, but metaphors just don’t fly with beer names. People don’t want to ponder the meaning behind the name. They don’t stand outside the refrigerator case and think, “I wonder what that could mean.” They would rather see a pun and get a little laugh out of it. Stuff like “Wetsuit Dreams” or “Hazing Saddles.” You look at those names and know immediately what the joke is. And ironically, there was probably a team of people who were really proud of the name they came up with for Two Hats. I’m sure a lot of back slapping was going that day.
At the end of the day it’s no wonder that MillerCoors had to eventually pull the plug on Two Hats. I’m not saying you can’t make a good light beer, but you need to start with that. Focus on the beer first and work on the rest after you’ve figured out the most important part of the equation. And as for price, you get what you pay for. If you want quality ingredients, a craft style and good flavor, then chances are you are going to have to pay for it. And if the LDACs don’t want to pay for that, then let them get their buzz on with cheap wine and booze. And to be honest, the independent brewers aren’t going to miss them.