Cold beer, hot planet: How two very different beer brands respond to climate change

    Corona and Coors Light are two very different beer brands. One positions itself as a premium offering while the other prides itself on being a budget product. One originates in Mexico while the other is brewed domestically. However, there’s one thing both these brands have in common: sustainability marketing programs.

    As climate change becomes a growing concern for consumers, sustainability has become a priority for advertisers. Corona and Coors Light have each managed to launch sustainability campaigns in their own way that remain true to the brand, while positioning themselves for a new generation of consumers. For Corona, key to the success of these efforts is the ability to make a strong business case for building marketing around sustainability.

    “The only way for me to be able to sustain this, beyond my personal belief, is if I can prove to the business that sustainability is a better business than any other business. It’s not a part of the business. It is the business,” said Felipe Ambra, global vice president of Corona, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev). The executive reports that on multiple occasions, he has been able to prove that environmental-based marketing campaigns return equal or greater brand equity and sales results than a traditional, product-centered campaign.

    For Coors Light, owned by Molson Coors, revamping its already popular “Made to Chill” campaign proved to be the ticket to making an impact with sustainability. Corona, which is owned internationally by AB InBev and in the United States by Constellation Brands, took a different approach. The AB InBev owned arm of the business has launched a series of plastic-elimination initiatives over the course of several years, culminating in the opening of Corona Island, an island resort free of single-use plastic that will welcome its first guests in 2023.

    Keeping it real

    As Gen Z consumers reach an age when they can drink, alcohol brands have been quick to cater to them. 

    References to “going green” and “carbon offsetting” are especially important for reaching this elusive younger consumer, with nearly 73% of Gen Z consumers saying they are willing to spend more for a sustainable product. By 2030, this generation will make up 27% of the world’s income and surpass the income earnings of millennials a year later. That much buying power cannot be ignored.

    Environmental advertising could be one way to cater to this generation. However, there are challenges. Another thing Gen Z values besides the environment is authenticity. Greenwashing is quick to be called out, and such campaigns can backfire.

    Forty-one percent of consumers said they boycott brands they see as exploiting public sentiment, according to Augie Ray, vice president analyst at Gartner for Marketers. For this reason, it’s important that brands have sustainable products and practices before advertising them, he noted.

    “In general, our research suggests that consumers perceive most brand social justice action as being more about making the brand look good than about making a real difference,” said Ray.

    However, even well thought-out environmental efforts can be met with backlash. Earlier this year, Unilever CEO Alan Jope was criticized by a major investor for allegedly putting a focus on sustainability over profits. 

    Both Coors Light and Corona made an effort to integrate sustainability into production prior to advertising. Coors Light has committed itself to phasing out the use of plastic rings by the end of 2025, dedicating $85 million to the push. As the phasing out of plastic rings requires a complete equipment overhaul, this won’t be limited to just Coors Light, but all brands Molson Coors distributes in North America, including Blue Moon and Miller Lite.

    Corona has taken a similar approach, slowly phasing out plastic from production. In 2021, it became the first global beverage brand to have a net zero plastic footprint.


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