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Low-Carb Beer Brands Jump to Follow the Leader

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With this month's introduction of Coors Aspen Edge in 11 states and last fall's successful rollout of Rock Green Light, low-carbohydrate-beer ad campaigns are poised to take off in a segment that accounts for more than 2.5 percent of the $8.6 billion U.S. beer market.

The first and leading low-carb beer, Anheuser-Busch's Michelob Ultra, has soared into the Top 10 best-selling beers since its launch in 2002. Microbreweries to majors are launching low-carb ad campaigns. Even Miller last year touted its Lite brand as "the original low-carb beer."

"We had to reorder three more runs of packaging," said Jon Genese, director of marketing at Labatt USA in Norwalk, Conn., parent of Rolling Rock, which shipped 1 million cases of Rock Green Light in its introductory fourth quarter. "It definitely exceeded expectations."

All are chasing category leader Ultra, which is backed with more than $40 million in adspend, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Ads that broke last year from Omnicom Group's DDB in Chicago link the beer to exercise, showing women jogging up stairs, and singles competing in tennis and swimming.

"Ultra broke new ground here," said Brian Sudano, svp of consultancy Beverage Marketing in New York. "They brought awareness of what low-carb could mean to what Americans consider a healthy diet."

"Though every day of A-B's lead time is worth four times the dollars they've spent, there is no brand loyalty in the category yet, so it's up for grabs," said Mark H. Rodman, consultant at Beverage Industry Consultants in Swampscott, Mass.

A Rock Green Light effort that broke last month from Interpublic Group's McCann-Erickson in New York targets young, socially active men with TV spots that tweak Ultra's fitness and exercise emphasis. The work features shots of a muscular arm holding a beer as if exercising, comically suggesting Rock Green Light is the beer to drink to avoid obesity. Also in the spots, a shouting, Tony Little-type personal trainer directs young, bar-cruising men through routines that include pushing a jukebox button and gesturing to signify "ladies first."

"It's easy to burn off a refreshing, low-carb Rock Green Light," the voiceover yells in one ad. "This workout is called 'After You.' Feel the burn!" The tagline is, "Now you've got the green light."

Meanwhile, IPG's Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif., will launch an Aspen Edge push in a few weeks, the shop said, though it declined to reveal details. Aspen Edge brand director Ken Hehir hinted at a tack that goes against the trend. "We aren't positioning Aspen Edge as the reward for a hard workout," he said. "It's a great-tasting beer you can enjoy whether you've run five miles that day or not."

F.X. Matt Brewing in Utica, N.Y., a 116-year-old microbrewery, also is backing a low-carb entry, Accel. Commissioned by brewmaster Fred Matt, who had a stint at Grey in New York in the '80s as a creative, spots that broke in five mid-Atlantic and New England states at year's end also took a health angle. The work, by Trainor Associates in New Hartford, N.Y., shows torso-only shots reminiscent of Soloflex infomercials. Accel was successfully introduced last year with an outdoor effort ("Meet America's New Beer Bellies").