Molson Coors is making a ‘big bet’ on vodka soda

After delaying Aquarelle's launch campaign, the brewer increases the investment behind the latest product in its "beyond beer" portfolio.

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Molson Coors has increased the marketing investment behind Aquarelle vodka soda, changing its original plan to better compete in a fiercely competitive marketplace.

The sizeable campaign for Aquarelle – created with agency partner Sid Lee – consists of TV, online video, influencer partnerships and a big social media presence. Leslie Malcolm, brand director for Molson Coors’ Six Pints division, says the brand positioning Aquarelle is trying to establish is one that “expresses vibrancy and colour that lives within each of us” and “embraces your realness.”

The beverage company’s bullishness on Aquarelle stems from U.S. projections that forecast the volume of hard seltzers in the U.S. is going to more than triple by 2023, with the category being worth approximately $2.5 billion USD by next year. Malcolm tells strategy the numbers are similar in Canada, relative to its size.

“It’s really just a reflection of how consumer tastes are changing,” she says. “We’re seeing that consumers want more variety beyond just beer. For us, it’s really about just differentiating our (canned beverage) portfolio to make sure that we’re fit to compete for the future and also making sure that we recognize where consumer trends are going.” Molson Coors also launched Arizona Hard Green Tea (with vodka, ginseng and orange honey) in April.

Todd Allen, VP of marketing at Molson Coors’ competitor Labatt Breweries, recently told strategy that the vodka soda category was a particular area of focus for it as well, citing similar figures that pointed to an opportunity for growth.

The Aquarelle campaign was originally set to begin on April 1, before the biggest portions of the campaign were postponed to July 1 (digital buys have already commenced). The biggest change in the campaign since then was the size: TV was not in the original plan, but was added so Molson Coors could break through the clutter and generate a high degree of awareness in two increasingly competitive categories: ready-to-drink, as well as “better for you” products.

The core consumer, Malcolm says, is the millennial drinker, who is looking for a better-for-you option that helps them feel good about what they’re consuming, with the convenience of no mixing required.

Malcolm says Aquarelle vodka soda will reach a different consumer during similar drinking occasions as beer brands: “in the summertime, enjoying summer weather, in backyards or cottages, looking for the convenience of an RTD beverage,” she says.

Such an occasion won’t be too problematic, despite the physical distancing protocols brought on by COVID-19. “Consumers are still looking to enjoy beverages at home,” Malcolm says. “Obviously, they’re not going to social gatherings with large groups. But they are very much looking for ways to have some enjoyment in their day-to-day. We’ve certainly not seen a huge impact. We believe the occasion is still there.”

In its most recent quarterly report, Molson Coors said that while initial pantry-loading behaviours at the end of March did not continue into April, sales to retailers were performing strong; however, any increase in home consumption would likely not be enough to offset the closure of bars, restaurants and other venues.