Aug 29, 2009 at 04:29 PM
written by Michael Senno

A-B College Beer Cans – Great Idea, Poor Execution

A-B’s campaign to brand beer cans with local college colors was a simple, yet brilliant product marketing idea. They have successfully rebranded bottles and cans in the past and fans have exhibited a definitive affinity to purchase school branded products. Sometimes, the best ideas simply reinvent the wheel. However, A-B fell asleep at the wheel when trying to roll this out, and not only blew the opportunity but also opened the door for another brand to capitalize.

Underage drinking is a major problem for universities, and a well-known, public battle at that. A-B should have been sensitive to the issue and included the NCAA or a consortium of schools to select the appropriate distribution channels. In hindsight, its easy to say this, but pick up the news, do some research, schools around the country are running campaigns against underage drinking and threatening not to sell alcohol in stadiums. A-B needed to make this a partnership. Second, college licensing programs have emerged as major revenue streams for university athletic programs. While legally A-B may not have infringed with the use of the colors, it walks the line, and undoubtedly received attention from the licensing groups. Another area A-B should have addressed before going to market, where a partnership would have prevented an end to the initiative.

Before everyone toots the horns of universities for pressuring A-B into submission and winning a fight against underage drinking, visit some of these schools and see how little some of them do to control drinking and advocating of drinking that goes on right on campus. Fraternities make no secret of hazing, bars literally steps off campus offer specials intended for heavy drinking. Instead of fighting a regulated beer company trying to sell product, schools should focus on what happens on their own campus. In the end, the same distribution points that were selling the branded beer cans will sell the unbranded beer cans, and for 18-21 year olds, it makes no difference.

With that said, this idea has legs – if it didn’t universities would have left it alone and not worried. A-B should now work with universities and develop a plan to sell it in bars, away from campuses, in the surrounding areas near each school to help lift A-B sales in bars relative to the competition. Further, if it works for beer cans, why not use it for soda, iced tea, or water. Those beverage companies, not facing the regulatory issues should look at this as an opportunity to gain market share in the highly competitive beverage category. It could be companies with pouring rights on campus executing a brand extension into surrounding areas, or a guerilla campaign by the competition to own areas right off the campus.

Not everything needs to be groundbreaking and innovative to succeed.

Michael is studying for his MBA at NYU’s Stern School of Business, with a focus on business development and strategic planning in the sports industry. A passionate sports fan, Michael revels in the use of statistical analysis in sports, and continues to pursue that in his leisure. In addition to sports, Michael brings a strong interest in media, with a focus on the shift to digital media and the transformation of cable. More of Michael's insights can be found on and he can be followed on Twitter at