Zomething Different: The Rise, Fall, and Recent Comeback of Zima

Two guys walk into a bar. They order beers. Bartender says they don’t have any beer. The men look confused. A stranger in a stylish hat suggests they try something different. They order a clear malt beverage. It’s on ice, clear, delicious. The men are happy.

The entire ad spot lasts 30 seconds, or roughly the same amount of time Zima could claim to be among the most popular adult beverages in the country.

In 1991, with beer sales on the decline across the industry, the Coors company of Golden, Colorado decided to blend two of the hottest trends in consumer marketing: “clear” products like Crystal Pepsi and the smooth, gently-intoxicating appeal of wine coolers. By using charcoal to filter the color and taste from their brews, they were able to deliver a vaguely citrus-tasting drink with 4.7 percent alcohol content. The company asked third-party marketing firm Lexicon Branding to give it a name; Jane Espenson, who would later become a staff writer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Game of Thrones, dubbed it Zima, the Russian word for "winter."

Armed with a $180 million budget for the 1994 launch, Coors peppered television with commercials featuring a spokesman who exchanged his s's for z's. (“What’s your zign?”) They also pushed a slew of merchandising and even an early consumer-use product website.

The goal was to get Zima on the minds and into the hands of young males. Owing to the blanket advertising assault, that's exactly what they accomplished. Zima sold a staggering 1.3 million barrels’ worth of product in 1994, giving it a near-instant 1 percent market share in the booze industry. It was estimated that 70 percent of all drinkers tried the “malternative."

As Coors would soon learn, those numbers only work in your favor if people like the product. The company was disappointed to learn that many of them didn’t: Men found the taste off-putting. And those who enjoyed it were precisely the demographic they were looking to avoid.

Women who normally passed over beer embraced Zima, giving it an effete quality that marketing considered to be grim death for the valued male customer base. If a man couldn’t feel manly taking a pull of the clear stuff, he'd be likely to reach for something else.

On the public relations side, Coors was also having to defend itself against charges that teenagers were growing fond of Zima because its smell was harder to detect than regular beer (it had almost no odor) and was easier to consume out in the open. A rumor surfaced that Zima wouldn’t set off a breathalyzer, which Coors was forced to debunk in letters addressed to police chiefs and school officials.

Raelene Gutlerrez via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Unfortunately, being in the beer business and having to write letters to superintendents means that something has already gone very wrong. By 1995, Zima's sales dropped by half; in 1996, they dropped nearly in half again. David Letterman began mocking it on his talk show. Coors tried to entice the hip crowd, launching Zima Gold, which had a more liquor-like taste, but they weren’t fooled. Zima XXX and its higher-volume alcohol content (5.9 percent) followed, all to diminishing returns.

Nothing could recapture that early intrigue: Citing poor sales, Coors, which eventually merged with Miller to become MillerCoors, discontinued Zima in 2008—but that wasn't quite the end.

In 2014, The Japan Times reported that Zima was a popular order in Tokyo bars. The drink’s advertising campaign was focused on appearing cool to young Japanese men, who apparently order it without fear of coming off like a party lightweight. And in summer 2017, MillerCoors banked on nostalgia to fuel a Zima comeback: The brewer has resurrected the suds-free beverage for a limited time through Labor Day.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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The Long, Fascinating History of Chocolate

Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

Walk into just about any grocery or convenience store today and you're sure to find row upon row of chocolate in every imaginable form. While we have come to associate this sweet treat with companies like Hershey, chocolate has been a delicacy for centuries.

All chocolate comes from the cacao tree, which is native to the Americas, but is now grown around the world. Inside the tree’s fruits, or pods, you’ll find the cacao beans, which—once roasted and fermented—give chocolate its signature rich and complex flavor. While we don't know who first decided to turn cacao beans into chocolate, we certainly owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

In this episode of Food History, we're digging into the history of chocolate—from its origins to the chocolate-fueled feud between J.S. Fry & Sons and Cadbury and much, much more. You can watch the full episode below.

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