Learning From Mistakes Fridays: Molson M
Hey everyone, this is Molson M:
It is not very good. I had a whole article planned to tell you exactly, in painstaking detail, everything that is un-delicious about this beer, but then I realized: yes, I could write another scathing review of a terrible product (which I apparently do with such frequency that my mother winces in advance of clicking on my articles), or I could find a way to turn this into a positive experience. It’s a challenge, you realize, because drinking Molson M is pretty terrible, but I am bent on trying to find a way to make this helpful to the world at large.
First, I guess, I should explain what this is, just in case you’re not the sort of inveterate drinker who is constantly pestering waiters and liquor employees about what’s new to sample. Molson M is a new domestic premium (for Canadians) / imported super-premium (for you unfortunate Americans) that seems to be selling itself purely on the strength of a grown-up image and the implied wizardry behind the word “microcarbonated.”
“What exactly does that mean?” I asked my favorite rep at our local LCBO.
“Smaller bubbles,” he replied. “Micro-small, as you might guess.”
I put forward that, on the whole, the bubbles in beer seemed regularly pretty tiny. Was this simply a re-statement of the obvious, and we should soon expect to see, “Made of 100% non-solids” on a label soon?
“Ha, yeah, no,” he said, peering around the store for more interesting beers to sell me. He spotted a beer in the cooler that was named after dead elephants, but decided to explain, “It’s a process they came up with where the fermentation produces smaller bubbles, which gets you a Guinness-style head on the beer.”
He thought for a moment and added, “Plus, less bloat. It’s not for you. I’d really give it a miss.”
Naturally, I couldn’t — thus confirming that I am idiotically vulnerable to even the most ridiculous novelty, and proving that I should really listen to people who know what they’re talking about. Indeed, I was able to confirm that:
- Molson M is a generally uninspired beer,
- Featuring tiny little bubbles that are closer to champagne than they are to Guinness,
- Which as a result goes flat more or less instantly after you pour it into a glass,
- Leaving you with cold, bland lager that tastes like someone’s been stirring it with a dirty spoon for several minutes.
But hey, there’s lots of crappy beer out there, right? If I wanted to bag on a terrible drinking experience, I could’ve brought home four tallboys of Steeler and called it a day, you know? Why should this one be so instructional?
Because, I think, there is a great deal to be learned about how not to sell a beer from Molson M. It has the architecture of a failed product through and through, and if I can help to expose even a few reasons why, I believe then I’ll have done everyone a service — and perhaps helped avert future mistakes like this from happening. So let’s dive in, why don’t we, with something nice and obvious like:
Molson M smacks of being the result of a product development meeting that everyone left feeling very pleased with how clever they were. Imagine that you’re the office intern, hanging around the conference room door as everyone walks out, hoping to swoop in and grab whatever leftover sandwiches are in there, and you can just happen to see the totemic power words scrawled across the whiteboard:
- INVOKES TRADITION
- BREAKS FROM THE PACK
- PROVOKES CURIOSITY
Wow, right? Now imagine ordering it in a noisy bar.
Bartender: HEYYYY, WHAT CAN I GET YOU!
You: M PLEASE?
Bartender: SORRY, DIDN’T CATCH THAT?
You: M? An M? EMMMMM?
You: M! EMMMMM! The– god damn it, THAT NEW MOLSON! MOLSON M!
Bartender: Bleh, your funeral.
You: SORRY? COULDN’T HEAR YOU!
Bartender: I SAID EIGHT-FIFTY! CHEERS!
The thing is that it isn’t even a word — M isn’t even a syllable, it’s just a phoneme. It’s a sound, and one that makes you sound like you may be having a stroke, the louder you make it. But that’s what’s on the label, that’s what’s on the tap, and why wouldn’t that be the first thing that comes to mind when you order it? Only after a humiliating exercise in brand identification do you actually figure out what to say: “Molson M.”
Which, don’t kid yourself, is absolutely by design. Molson’s other products, like Canadian or Export or Rickards, all have their own strong identities — you never ever have to mention the brewer itself when you’re ordering the product, and this clearly got someone’s juices flowing. It was on someone’s business plan to get people saying the word “Molson” more often in Canada’s pubs, bars and restaurants, and the best way that they could think to do that is invent a product whose actual name — “M” — is pain-in-the-ass impractical.
But hey, it looks great on a label, and it’s iconic, and it asserts the brand! Who cares if it makes customers sound like they’re being electrocuted when they ask for it? And who cares, because M is clever! It stands for Molson! And it also stands for…
If you go and read the literature about microcarbonation — and Molson has produced a surprising amount of it in support of this product, between the PR and the website — you may notice a couple of things missing. Namely:
- What exactly it is, and
- Why it makes their beer good
Instead, their literature ballyhoos the technology as being revolutionary and, you know, great, before moving on to talk about how the beer is award-winning and, you know, great. Now I realize that not everyone out there is interested in the chemistry of brewing, or the reason that certain processes render specific flavors, but perhaps a little more detail is in order? Lest I get suspicious that one may have come up with a clever buzzword that just happens to link into the whole marketing campaign, and then slapped it everywhere?
And I don’t even really care about that so much, because you all know that I am all about gimmicks and flavors and ideas. But if you’re doing something clever, and that is the primary reason that you want me to consume your product instead of the home-made wine in my basement, then you have to paint a more complete picture! It’s not enough simply to say, “Microcarbonated for delicious lager goodness, now check out this boss logo, isn’t that dignified?” because concept does not equal marketing. Which reminds me:
I’m not saying that every time I Google a brand of beer I should be confronted with this:
But this is the sexiest thing that I could find in the first four pages of Google Image Searches on Molson M:
No offense to these guys, but it feels to me like the Molson M team is resting a little bit too comfortably on their concept, you know what I mean? They seem to be selling it entirely on the basis of a dignified, gold-on-black color palette; its association with the parent brand name, which I suppose confers some kind of premium-ness to it; and a poorly-defined brewing process that doesn’t actually make a lot of sense, and will be easily confused with micro-brewing, a term people have already heard a gojillion times before.
All of which would be fine, if it wasn’t blindingly obvious that product positioning is the best thing Molson M has going for it, because…
Dear God the beer is terrible
By which I mean, the primary selling point — the dimly-conveyed microcarbonation — is also its greatest drawback. Wee little bubbles dissipate almost instantly, which depletes the only resource in most beers for disguising their fundamental awfulness. Why in the world would anyone actively seek that out?
I mean, for those who are totally into it, I wouldn’t want to stop them: Enjoy your freshly-poured and near-instantaneously flat beer, middle-aged men attracted to premium brands! The reduced carbonation will produce a flavor familiar to you, without introducing uncomfortable farty feelings!
Is that the truth, then, at the heart of this product? Someone figured out how to make a beer that is optimized for the delicate tummies, forever rattling with Zantacs, of a growing demographic? Could it be that all of these logos and buzzwords, clever names and single-letter moaning, are all there to cover up the fact that this is a beer for those who have digestive problems, but don’t want to quit drinking?
God, no wonder they worked so hard to come up with a different message — but let me ask you this! If indeed that is the true benefit of Molson M, that older ladies and dudes could enjoy it without the terrible gastric consequences that would normally await them, then why not be loud and proud about it? Why must products forever be an exercise in persuading those who don’t want it to buy it, when they could be a celebration of exactly why certain people should want nothing else?
Molson M: Learn from their mistakes — make a great product, give people a reason to use your brand rather than being cute about backing them into it, and be open about who you’re going after.
Molson LO2: All the flavor, none of the baggage!
See? Not that hard. Heck, my LCBO guy had it nailed from the outset.