Dan Fox
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Personal reflection on a legend: Bill Coors turns 100 years old

William K. Coors – “Uncle Bill” to many, even those not in the Coors family – turned 100 years old on 11 August. When the term “beer baron” was coined, I’m pretty sure Bill Coors’ image appeared on the heads side of that coin.

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Circa 1959 – Bill Coors shows off one of the first aluminium beverage cans

It could be reasonably argued that Bill Coors was personally responsible for the most significant bit of innovation to occur in beer marketing over a century, namely the aluminium beverage can. To say it transformed the industry is no exaggeration. And it’s still going on as craft brewers routinely trumpet their moves into that package. Though the original idea was not his, it was Bill Coors who, by force of will, and against then conventional wisdom, transformed the idea into reality.

(You can read the whole story here.)

Even into times when “gotcha” reporting and a media obsessed with sound bites could work to his detriment, Bill could always be counted on to speak his mind. Direct and unvarnished, even the twinkle in his eye was real. At Coors’ annual distributor conventions, Bill’s unscripted–and to the chagrin of some more cautious brewery executives—un-rehearsed remarks were always a highlight. The audience was enthralled. Everyone knew they were in the presence of a true legend, a great man.

Because he was an engineer by professional training, and by avocation, a real student of the science surrounding brewing, Bill could be always counted on to tell you something you didn’t know. I remember him regaling the distributors with how silly he thought strident alcohol abstainers were being. He told how the human body naturally produces a small amount of alcohol as a digestive by-product, no matter what was consumed.

Bill concluded: “So even teetotalers are getting their little nip!”

The audience erupted in thunderous applause and side-splitting laughter.

You can get a feel for the man, his character, some of his accomplishments… and even his always-ready sense of humor in this 20 year-old video…

Two legends and their advertising

Over my three-decades-long career in advertising, I had the singular privilege of being able to see two true business giants at work. Bill Coors was one. Charlie Lubin, the founder and creator of the Sara Lee brand, was the other. Both were clients I served at Foote, Cone & Belding.

It says something that neither of these two giants held advertising in very high regard. But that wasn’t really a bad thing. See, both men absolutely venerated the quality and distinctiveness of the products they brought to market. Cutting corners on quality was a suggestion hired-help managers made at great peril. I saw Charlie Lubin lambast such people to tears. The risk of making such a suggestion to Bill Coors could easily have involved physical violence.

This devotion to product made the job of the advertising people easier. Selling beer brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water, or pound cakes made with all butter, focused the advertising people, and more important, the advertising itself. Lesser competitors–and lesser men–worshiped advertising that foisted undifferentiated brands on gullible consumers. Bill and Charlie, a brewer and a baker, genuflected before the altar of distinctive quality. While neither man would ever call himself one, both men were the very best of marketers. And in my view, advertising geniuses.

Charlie left us years ago. I’m glad Bill’s still here to savor hitting triple digits. We need our legends. And their marketing lessons.

Happy birthday, Bill Coors.

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