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13 May, 2016 - 13:23

On the back of each long-neck bottle of Rolling Rock beer, a bold but simple "33" stands out. Plain white on the dark green glass, the number sits enclosed in quotation marks, squarely below a block of type, daring the drinker to discover its meaning.

Since 1939, when the brew from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, made its debut, that "33" has been capturing the imagination of consumers. Fans of the beer steadily wrote Latrobe Brewing Co., trying to discem the significance of the number. Theories abound, but if anybody knows the real story, they have not told—which only adds to the "33" mystique.

This natural marketing hook, however, remained untapped for most of the beer's history. The company rarely ran promotions and its advertising did little to bolster the "33" myth. Rolling Rock was just another beer saddled with a blue-collar image, and in the white-collar 1980s sales began to decline steadily.

Things began to change for Rolling Rock in mid-1987, when Labatt's USA acquired Latrobe Brewing. The new owner, who recognized a good thing, brought in a Dallas-based promotions agency, The Marketing Continuum, and ad agency, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulous, to take advantage of the "33" legend.

The agencies believed that by playing up the number, they could preserve the brand's unique personality. They also sought to reposition Rolling Rock as a super-premium brand and saw "33" as the vital link to its long history, distinctive packaging, and special aura.

How successful has the new strategy been? Sales during the first two months climbed 15 per cent from the same period a year earlier. The repositioning has also paid off nicely. The brand's primary audience is no longer college students and blue-collar workers. The demographic on today's average Rolling Rock consumer shows a 21 to 35-year-old white-collar male earning USD 40,000 or more per year.

David Mullen, executive at TMC, says it was clear early in his company's relationship with Rolling Rock that the kind of "me too" bikini advertising, which has homogenized so many of the major beers, would be a poor direction for this brand. That is because Rolling Rock was a niche brand trying to capture the attention of consumers and distributors in a saturated market. The marketing minds behind Rolling Rock, Mullen says, saw a window of opportunity in the super-premium segment, where brands like Michelob and Lowenbrau were losing their allure with consumers who wanted something unique. So Mullen and his cohorts devised a successful program that continues to stress the "specialness" of the brand. 1


  • Despite the apparent success of this new marketing strategy designed by TMC, there are potential problems with the segmentation approach employed. Discuss these problems.
  • Discuss other possible bases for segmentation that Rolling Rock could have used.