Two Hats and the Play for Gen Z

A month ago, MillerCoors launched Two Hats, less a beer than a gamble. The future is grim for purveyors of mass market goods, and big beer is watching young people turn away from beer for wine and spirits--or from alcohol altogether--and is scrambling to figure out how to bring them back. Two Hats is MillerCoors' opening bid, and every element is an explicit answer to these challenges.

The goal is to enlist this generation of legal-age drinkers to beer from other offerings in wine and spirits. MillerCoors developed Two Hats “to bring something to these drinkers that’s relevant to them, that speaks to them and is at a price point that makes sense for them,” Sofia Colucci [senior director of innovation at MillerCoors] says.

The clean-finishing light beers are brewed with a hint of natural fruit flavor and check in at a sessionable 4.2 percent alcohol by volume. Two Hats debuted with two familiar flavors that perform well among younger legal-drinking-age consumers — lime and pineapple — and carries the tagline: “Good, cheap beer. Wait, what?”

Like a checklist, the different elements tick off a tactic to attract younger drinkers. Fruity like wine or cocktails? Check. Low octane for the alcohol-wary and health-conscious? Check. A marketing campaign conducted entirely via social media through the use of memes in a bid for virality? Check. Cheap? Check. The gamble is that by making a cheap beer that tastes very little like beer, MillerCoors can get a piece of Gen Z before it's lost to craft, Cabernet, and cocktails forever.

Whether that thinking is sound or not, what I can tell you is that Two Hats is a very bad beer. Though it's called a light lager, Two Hats should properly be understood as a flavored malt beverage. The only note that identifies it as a beer is a fleeting malty aftertaste that appears following the first swallow and is thereafter smothered by the artificial-tasting "natural" fruit flavor. And man, is that flavor strong. (Someone recently told me that the tone of my writing lately has gotten sharp, and I am mindful of that as I prepare to relay my findings. I'll try to do this with a light heart and spirit of generosity.)

It's far worse in the lime version, where the additive smells and tastes nothing like natural fruit. It has the highly-processed aroma found in soda with an additional chemical note that evokes cleaning products. I forced myself to drink the whole can to see how it evolved, and it didn't. There are no nuances here to emerge. Indeed, the only change is in the lime, which grows stronger and less natural as the beer warms. It's a beer that demands fast consumption. The pineapple is much less objectionable, and the aroma even smells like the fruit (perhaps canned, but still). The touch is lighter in this version, and the overall impression is forgettably vapid--a good thing considering the alternative.

Rest a glass of Two Hats on your reading material? No problem! The density is so slight you can easily read through 16 freshly-poured ounces.

MillerCoors has identified a real phenomenon. Drinking habits are changing fast, and the youngest drinkers are not inclined to slug back silver bullets the way baby boomers did. A recent study by Berenberg Research looked at 16 to 22-year-old drinkers (a curious sample range) and found that:

  • They're the first generation to prefer wine and spirits over beer.
  • They're drinking less, largely because of health concerns.
  • Demographically, it appears that men are drinking less and women about the same--which means women will play a more important role in this generation.
  • White men have historically drunk more alcohol than any other demographic group, but they form a smaller percentage of Gen Z than ever before (and may be drinking less). Marketing will therefore increasingly be directed at the growing demographics of nonwhites and women.

I tend to think these numbers are squishier than people believe (it's difficult to trust the wisdom of 17-year-olds in forecasting their own future preferences), and so we should be cautious in solidifying their opinions as unchanging fact. Futhermore, products like this appeal only to youth, so when this generation's palates become more sophisticated, they'll move on. Two Hats was made to taste like soda because younger people like sweeter foods and beverages. Like every flavored malt beverage, Two Hats hasn't been built for the long run; it's an attempt to grab some portion of this emerging demographic. (The ad campaign--see below--is destined to become dated almost instantly.)

Whether Two Hats will give MillerCoors a bump in the short term, however, I question the logic of this over-determined product in the long run. The whole campaign is so obviously tailored to young people, I wonder if this generation, so much more savvy about social media and advertising, will even try it. But worst, offering an unpleasant drink that does its best not to taste like beer seems like a bad way of building a loyal customer base to carry you through the decades as a generation ages.

Jeff Alworth4 Comments