The Coors family firmly believed that stewardship of their empire entitled them to public advocacy of the family's traditional conservative social agenda. Management at companies like IBM, Georgia-Pacific and Kraft scrupulously protected their firms' image and avoided public controversy. But Coors family philanthropy sponsored everything from the Right to Life movement to the Nicaraguan Contras.
...In 1975 when Miller Brewing introduced Miller Lite...sales of Coors Banquet Beer dropped by .5 percent per year from 1975 through 1980, while sales of Miller Lite increased by an average of 36 percent...Instead of taking bold action to reverse a decline, the Coors brothers set out on a series of public-relations blunders...Coors workers struck in a salary dispute in 1977...Striking lineworkers were fired and replaced by non-union employees...labor unions nationwide instituted a national boycott of Coors beer. Sales continued to plummet after Bill Coors's alleged racist remarks before a gathering of minority businessmen in March 1984. The Rocky Mountain News reported that the Coors Chairman of the Board not only claimed blacks in Zimbabwe lacked the intellectual capacity to govern, but that "one of the best things they [slave traders] did for you is to drag your ancestors over here in chains."...Not wanting to be left out, Joe Coors, as a card-carrying conservative and member of President Reagan's informal kitchen cabinet of advisors, decided to buy Oliver North... a 65,000 plane to be used by Contras in the Nicaraguan civil war...covertly supporting the Reagan Administration and the CIA's controversial Central American activities...Members of the Coors family provided financial backing to such conservative organizations as the Heritage Foundation, the John Birch Society and the Moral Majority...Coors was also a major environmental polluter.
A manager in the Human Resources Department dramatized Coors problem by telling me, "We used to be the top selling beer in Colorado, but we turn down about forty thousand people a year for jobs, and a lot of them fail the polygraph test . That's a lot of people running around hating Coors."
In combination with the introduction of Miller Lite, the public-relations furor drove down sales of Coors Banquet Beer by 11 to 13 percent per year from 1980 and 1983 which cost the company $360 million in lost sales revenue...Their product was no longer unique, and to the drinker with a conscience, drinking a Coors was like buying a share in a Contra plane, or union-busting...
And the trouble didn't stop there. Appearing to be bigoted, ultra-conservative, and anti-union, the Coors brothers and the company were also rumored to be supporting almost every right-wing cause known to mankind. Large constituencies of customers, including gays, blacks, Catholics, Jews, Teamsters, women, and environmentalists felt they had a reason to avoid drinking Coors beer....
(By 1986) Coors was running out of options. The war on the new-products front, including the battles over Colorado Chiller, Crystal Springs Cooler, and Masters III had failed miserably. The company was also running out of money, as constant price discounting of Coors Banquet and Coors Light were draining valuable cash reserves...The General noticed that Coors was the only the only major brewer without a malt liquor product. While Colt 45, King Cobra, and Schlitz Malt Liquor dominated this market, the General decided to explore the opportunity for Coors to market a menthol-flavored malt liquor...A new malt liquor product could bring black beer drinkers into the Coors fold. Or, as the General noted, "We [Coors] need the coons." He decided to proceed with Project Cool, commissioning focus groups to test consumer interest...Focus group participants in Los Angeles were enthusiastic about the menthol-flavored product. As one drinker in noted, he would drink the Cool Beer because it would "keep his shit off the streets." In Chicago the reaction was much the same.
Shortly after we returned from Chicago, Project Cool was tabled. According to the General, engineers from the brewery had warned that menthol could contaminate Coors beer lines.
...Coors was the only major brewer without an economy beer. In the fall of 1987, Pepe noted in a staff meeting that "Miller's got Meister Brau, A.B. has Busch, Stroh has Old Milwaukee. We've got a real gap to fill."...I blurted out, "Jeez, if Miller can have draft-beer taste in a bottle, then why couldn't we have bottled beer taste in a canned beer?" "Yeah," he responded excitedly. "Yeah! Beer drinkers are always telling us that they don't like the tinny or metal taste of canned beer. Why couldn't we give 'em the smooth, cool taste of bottled beer in a can?"..."How do we make the beer in our cans taste different?" Captain Kangaroo asked.
"Well, that's the part we're going to have to figure out. Maybe we could brew it differently, you know, with a new process or something. Or maybe... can we do anything different with the can?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Well someone in the focus group suggested we line the beer can to make the beer taste like bottled beer."
"With what?" he asked. "Trash-can liners?"
"Glass. Sure, each beer will weigh five pounds."
That's the last I heard of bottled beer taste in a canned beer, until that fateful spring day when the project team met with Foote, Cone, and Belding to discuss potential marketing strategies. As [they] unveiled the agency's concepts for Coors new economy beer, I was generally unimpressed: Tommy D's, a beer brewed in a fictional character's basement...Bighorn, a Canadian-style economy beer ...Nightlife, the beer for after dark...and then finally...a canned beer that tastes like bottled beer.
-excerpts from Silver Bullets: A Soldier's Story of How Coors Bombed in the Beer Wars by Robert J. Burgess