ZIMA Succeeded in Japan with Illusion of Discovery Strategy

We launched ZIMA in Japan in 1996, three years after its debut in the USA.

I was very fortunate to be given flexibility in repositioning ZIMA specifically for the Japanese market.

Coors beer was sold in Japan by Asahi under license until 1995 when I set up Coors Japan as an independent company.

This slide show tells some of the story of the ZIMA launch in Japan.

Because the Coors brand already had trust in the Japanese marketplace, one of the first things I did was mark it clearly as a Coors product on the bottle. (In the USA, the bottle was marked “Memphis Brewing Company”.)

We used imagery that was sexy, trendy, and designed to appeal to men as well as women.

As the first product of its kind to appear in Japan, ZIMA actually established the category in the country. With a small budget and using guerrilla “Illusion of Discovery” techniques, the strategy was to introduce ZIMA in a very limited way, giving each selected outlet an incentive to display and promote it.

I spent my evenings out in the field delighting bar owners with clever flashing LED devices Buz Lewis at Buzztronics came up with for us, such as a flashing blue coaster that lit up the entire bottle as it flashed. Consumers could not imagine what this clear sparkling malt beverage was – so getting attention so they would try ZIMA was essential.

The Japanese eat while they drink, and visit more than one establishment during an evening. We stuck with the original flavor of ZIMA which was something similar to Perrier with lime. A beverage that went well – and quickly – with food. As ZIMA grew in popularity, we were able to get ZIMA accepted in traditional Japanese restaurants, even sushi establishments- a huge win for us.

Another unusual accomplishment was getting picked up by the 7/11 chain without TV advertising. First in Hokkaido for a test, and when that went well, nationally.

When I set up Coors Japan, it was initially a very small company with a limited budget. Our Japanese ad agency took advantage of Ray Gordon’s creative skills in producing imagery for ZIMA. He also maneuvered around in Department store and liquor shop windows setting up special ZIMA displays during the 超限定販売 (“chou gentei hanbai” – very limited sales) launch along the Toyoko line.

Daily Beast article about ZIMA in Japan written in 2014.

Some of the original employees of Coors Japan (now Molson Coors Japan) were kind enough to meet with me in November 2016. We caught this photo.

Original Coors Japan members still at Molson Coors Japan

Original Coors Japan members (still at Molson Coors Japan) with the then CEO, Kenichi Yano at the right.

Many kudos to the company (now Molson Coors Japan) for keeping up the great work with ZIMA after I left in 2000 to become CEO of Club Med Japan.

How to Drink ZIMA

I am adding this section in reaction to the odd American idea that candy should be added to ZIMA. I’ve been seeing this in the taste tests. We never added anything to ZIMA to make it sweet in Japan.

Originally, my idea was to serve ZIMA in bourbon glasses over ice. That was to partly emphasize the premium positioning of the product. My customers knew better. They decided to push a lime into the bottle and drink it that way. I repurposed the inventory of square bourbon glasses we had bought with ZIMA logos to create candles. Customers loved the candles!

You’ll notice in the photo below taken at The Club at Kukuiula on the first day ZIMA was available on Kauai, that we drank it both in bottles and in a glass over ice with lime. One key to drinking ZIMA is to drink it COLD.

ZIMA at The Club at Kukuiula

Drinking ZIMA June 27th at The Club at Kukuiula on the south side of Kauai


Articles and Social Posts about the recently announced return of ZIMA for a limited time in the USA:

Thank you for the heads up on this ZIMA Permanent Facebook Page and Group. I am happy to become a member (August 12).

Recently released ZIMA for USA video

ZIMA fan born 1971 NOT millennial

Brian Fons currently displays ZIMA on the header of his Facebook. He was born in 1971.


Brian’s nephew Matt Fons is currently visiting relatives who are friends of mine on Kauai.

Adweek by Eric Oster: MillerCoors Is Bringing Back Clear Malt Beverage Zima for a Limited Time
Mental Floss by Jake Rossen includes mention of Japan
Business Insider by Kate H Taylor
Fox News: Zima is back: 5 things you didn’t know about this ‘clearmalt’ beverage
My ZIMA article on LinkedIn

Have You Found ZIMA Yet?

In the ZIMA Permanent Facebook Group, I saw complaints that ZIMA was hard to find in the store. One member found it in the candy section!! I know that beer shelf space is precious but that’s where people will look for it.

Also in the ZIMA Permanent Facebook Group, fans are reporting that ZIMA is disappearing from the shelves as of August 13th even though it was supposed to be available through Labor Day. One fan, Tami, reported: “Went to the distributor last night in Lebanon, PA. He had 16 cases in front of the store. He said that any cases that are not bought by next week, are being bought back my Miller!!! Get your hands on it while you can!!!!!! He did also say it is coming back next year!!!”

My hypothesis: Maybe they intend to make ZIMA a summer seasonal release, like WinterFest is seasonal for the winter.

Member of the ZIMA Permanent Facebook Group and lives in Michigan and finds ZIMA inventory is now out in her area

Member of the ZIMA Permanent Facebook Group who lives in Michigan

The Limited Release ZIMA spotting I saw initially was from Walmart. Adage wrote:
“We were talking through consumer insights, and we hit on this notion that people want things that are nostalgic, things from their past that remind them of a better part of their life,” said Al Dominguez, senior VP-snacks, beverage and impulse. “So we worked with our partners at MillerCoors to generate this idea, really talk them into it and convince them.”
Zima isn’t a Walmart exclusive, but “we tried to buy as much from MillerCoors as they would allow us to buy” said Dominguez, who believes he’s bought about half the limited edition of Zima hitting stores now.

I found ZIMA on the tiny island of Kauai! Here is the end cap at Koloa Big Save. Ironically today the Hawaii newspaper announced that Big Save/Times Markets are being acquired by Don Quixote – which is headquartered in Tokyo.

ZIMA on Kauai

ZIMA at Koloa Big Save

Reported sighting of ZIMA at Foodland in Princeville.

If you find ZIMA, please let me know where you found it.

This article is being updated with new articles and information about the USA MillerCoors ZIMA limited release.

About Linda Sherman

International, multicultural marketing pro, Linda brings a distinguished background of international subsidiary CEO/CMO to her Social Marketing expertise. These include CEO Club Med Japan, Barilla Japan and CMO Wal-Mart Japan. Linda Sherman has been featured and quoted in Forbes, The New York Times, Christian Monitor and other leading publications. She devised and implemented an innovative guerrilla-marketing plan for ZIMA in Japan that produced a lasting, profitable success. Linda has hands-on technical skills in building and search optimizing WordPress websites and an influential on-line presence. Linda teaches social marketing for business at the University of Hawaii. Her company, The Courage Group, provides websites, digital film, branding and social marketing strategy and training. Linda is also a personal branding coach.

Connect with Linda Sherman on Google+

  • SEOmom

    Brilliant budget conscious marketing plan that infiltrated from the edge to the center of the target market.