Chris McDonough, marketing director at Molson Coors, on regaining momemtum and disruptive marketing

Chris McDonough, marketing director at Molson Coors, has shaken up the approach to marketing at the UK's top brewer.

Chris McDonough, marketing director at Molson Coors
Chris McDonough, marketing director at Molson Coors

There's a new broom sweeping through the corridors at Molson Coors, one that goes by the name of Chris McDonough. The marketing director likes to talk about 'disruption' in relation to communications, a word that could sum up the effect he has had since joining the brewer last year.

Not that his bosses judge this to be a bad thing. '(McDonough has) made a great impact on the business,' Mark Hunter, a former marketer and now Molson Coors' chief executive, tells Marketing.

McDonough, who joined Molson Coors from Muller, where he was marketing director, has brought some big theoretical marketing thinking to the UK's biggest brewer, home of Carling, Coors Light and Cobra. His passion for the discipline shines through as he speaks at a rapid pace about his plans for the company.

McDonough has been preoccupied so far with developing a 'root and branch' segmentation as well as semiotics and product attributes studies, as the blueprint for the marketing department and Molson Coors' wider business.

A study in segmentation

The segmentation study covered 6500 consumers and looked at the whole alcohol sector, a departure from Molson Coors' previous thinking, which focused on 18- to 24-year-old men when it came to lager.

The consumer segment types that emerged from the study have names such as 'social explorers' and 'content routiners'. It also highlights different frames of mind that motivate drinking, such as 'quest for discovery' and 'wind down'.

McDonough is keen to highlight the significance of this work to Molson Coors' future plans. 'It allows us to look at the market and define all our brand repositioning, so we can identify the innovation space for the next five years,' he says.

The use of semiotics was aimed at understanding the 'coded communication' of the lager category, compared with other alcohol categories. The investigation into product attributes was intended to lead to an insight into the drivers behind consumer preference, aside from branding.

'It's quite rare that you get to do a root-and-branch review, develop fundamentals, and then define a roadmap to growth,'

explains McDonough. 'We've created a new language within the organisation (for use) by the sales team and all our agencies. When I say this is the bedrock of our business, I genuinely mean that.'

It is to be hoped that, for McDonough's sake, the 'new language' was better received internally than by industry journalists. Reporters at a Molson Coors press event last month, no doubt accustomed to traditional consumer segments, looked puzzled when he explained that 'considered balancers' formed the target market for one product.

The first fruits of McDonough's efforts were revealed last month in a blitz of announcements. Perhaps the most significant was a £7.3m rebrand of Molson Coors' flagship Carling product. Explaining the impetus for this, McDonough says it had 'lost momentum' and needed to become aspirational again, by using the guiding proposition 'Refreshingly and brilliantly British'.

It includes an overhauled brand identity across packaging and glassware, which McDonough claims was led by his semiotics work, selling Carling in an aluminium bottle, and the launch of a premium brand extension.

The latter, Carling Chrome, a 4.8% ABV lager, debuts at the end of this month across the onand off-trade in bottles. It will launch just weeks after Foster's Gold, Heineken UK's premium bottled variant, which went on sale at the end of July. If McDonough is bothered by the rival launch, he isn't showing it, claiming that Chrome's 'precision brewing process' will give it the edge.

Though he does not explicitly say so, McDonough does not seem particularly enamoured with the work Molson Coors' marketing department did before his arrival. Beattie McGuinness Bungay, the agency behind the award-winning iPint app and the much-celebrated 'You know who your mates are' campaign, lost the Carling ad account to VCCP Blue earlier this year. The next Carling campaign will appear outdoor in October, with TV ads scheduled to follow in 2012.

Is he aware how well-liked the 'mates' Carling ad campaign was? 'There was a core consumer who did feel warm to (it),' McDonough replies. 'But what most consumers felt was that it holds a mirror up to who they are. That's fine for a moment, but unless you set an ambition or aspiration, it's not necessarily seen as a "brand I have pride in drinking", which then becomes a default option.'

McDonough does, however, admire the Bittersweet Partnership, the specialist unit set up within Molson Coors two years ago to investigate why so few women drink beer, and to bring products to market. The partnership's research has covered about 35,000 women, work McDonough says brought 'a real richness' of insight. The result of this, a beer range called Animee, will appear this autumn. The launch will be supported by a £2m ad campaign.

As news of Molson Coors' plans broke, the idea of a beer aimed at women attracted smart remarks on social media as to why it wouldn't work. McDonough says he understands the scepticism. 'The image of beer hasn't been right. Our challenge is to look at how we connect with women.'

However, social media did the trick for the recent Coors Light campaign featuring actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, which took a 'digital first' approach. The 'muscles from Brussels' starred in a series of self-mocking 40-second spots, which launched online in July. After generating a phenomenal buzz (it attracted an unparalleled number of likes and dislikes on YouTube) it launched on TV almost a month later.

And so to the future. McDonough's schedule for the next couple of years is manic. He hints at marketing around the London 2012 Olympics for his world beer portfolio, which covers brands such as Grolsch, Corona and Singha. Ales such as Worthington's and Caffrey's are also earmarked for 'revitalisation'.

With such a full schedule, does McDonough, who turns 40 in December, lie awake at night thinking about his job? He laughs and says that nothing apart from his hobby of training guide-dog puppies (he has a canine youngster at the moment, who is up all hours) disturbs his sleep.

'I'm a pretty positive person, pretty upbeat. I do believe if we approach this in the right way there's a real opportunity for brand and category growth with Molson Coors at the heart of it.'


1994-2001: Various roles, rising to European petcare portfolio controller, at Masterfoods (Mars)

2001-2003: Brand portfolio controller, Bacardi Martini

2003-2007: Returned to Mars, rising to marketing director for Mars German petcare division

2007-2010: Marketing and R&D director and Ireland general manager, Muller UK

2010-present: Marketing director, Molson Coors UK & Ireland


Lives: Nantwich, Cheshire

Family: Married with three children

Ambition: To 'ski the world'

And another thing: He is fluent in French, having studied it as part of his degree