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"I think everyone was waiting for Zima to fail," Demlow continues. "Everyone wanted it to be a fad. They thought it was going to bomb, but it continues to exist and thrive. At this point, we're kind of like, leave the little thing alone; it's only an alcoholic beverage."
Even if its maker keeps insisting it's a "unique" alcohol beverage. "It's important not to try to be all things to all consumers," Rabschnuck adds. "That's when you get ridiculed, when you try to market something to someone who has rejected your product. If they say it's too light or too sweet or it looks too pretty and they're not going to hold it in their hand at a bar, then don't go after that guy any more. Let him have his Sam Adams."
And then, of course, there was that early advertising. Foote, Cone & Belding admits it may share some of the blame for Zima's image problem. The initial ad campaign featured comedian Roger Kabler with his goofy hat and Z-speak that was entertaining for about a nanosecond. "With Roger, we wanted someone who was going to be different from what you see in general beer advertising," Rabschnuck says. "We wanted someone fun and a little bit quirky. We wanted a person who was going to make an impression on you, tell you about something new and then move aside to let you try things for yourself. The intention with Roger was definitely to make him out of the ordinary, but we are guilty of overdoing it, because it went from different and unique to being eccentric and weird."
And the butt of lots of Letterman jokes.
In the beginning, Rabschnuck says, getting all that publicity from Letterman was an unexpected boost. "But then some people on the public relations end may have misread the whole thing and encouraged Letterman by sending him cases of Zima," he admits. "And not all publicity is good publicity. Just ask Hugh Grant. I'm sure in spite of all the media coverage he received, he would have loved for that whole mess not to have happened.
"My latest idea was for Grant to be a spokesperson for Zima, and I was only half kidding."
As far as Demlow is concerned, though, all that attention was nothing but good for Zima. "Why not let Dave jab us?" she says. "Let's just sit back here in Golden [Colorado] and have the top-rated talk-show host in the country incorporate us into his routine. It was quite an honor to be part of the show."
According to Letterman's home office in New York City -- not Sioux City, Iowa -- the jabs at Zima were nothing personal. Letterman's goal, a spokesman says, is simply to make people laugh. Once a joke loses its punch, the show gives it a rest.
Maybe that's why no one's heard a zinger about Zima lately.
From the beginning, one of the most frequently heard complaints about Zima was that it was too light and too soft for real men who want their booze to pack a kick. "A whole bunch of people who tried Zima said that they liked the concept of a clear malt beverage but didn't like the taste of this product," says Mark Lee, the Zima brand manager. "They wanted something that had a much stronger taste. So we listened to them and created a product that was oriented to people who like darker, stronger goods, and that's how Zima Gold was born."
Zima Gold was stronger than Zima (5.4 percent alcohol by volume, instead of 4.7 percent) and bolder (label colors of crimson, gold, and black rather than blue and silver); the target market was men between the ages of 21 and 34.
"Gold is a much more polarized product," Julie Demlow says. "We wanted to attract some of the younger guys who drink heavier-flavored products. We had a lot of trial from Zima drinkers who weren't excited about Gold's flavor, and that has a lot to do with the fact that if they are drinking Zima, which is light and clear, and then they try Zima Gold, which is more like a dark-based distilled spirit like bourbon, they're not going to say both taste fabulous. I guess some guys just like their beer too much."
In February Gold was introduced in Omaha and Tucson with little fanfare. According to Handfelt, the Coors spokeswoman, because Zima had already established the clearmalt category, Gold didn't need a hefty advertising budget. The national roll-out started May 1 in bars and restaurants; by May 15 Zima Gold was available in supermarkets and at liquor stores.
And those may be the only places you can find Zima Gold today. Citing disappointing sales, Coors announced in August that it would no longer ship Zima Gold. Handfelt says some fans keep calling Coors to find the drink; their only option is to find a store that hasn't sold out its entire stock.
Actually, that may not be too difficult.
But Coors isn't about to give up on Zima. Its Gold incarnation may be dead, but the original version is going global. "We just launched Zima in Puerto Rico, and it's doing extremely well there," Mark Lee says. "Now we're working on the U.K. and all over Europe."