The quote from British evolutionary biologist J. B.S. Haldane was originally meant to apply to the Universe, but, after a recent e-mail exchange with Athol, I realized it was equally relevant to the U.S. in the 1970s.
We had been kicking around the issue of use-by dates on products, and Athol posed the following question: “Why do some beers (name brands like Coors specifically) have Best Drunk by dates?”
Athol and I are about the same age, but when I saw this question, I realized that not all of his years were spent in the U.S. For the benefit of anyone who was not in the U.S. in the mid-70s, a brief recap of the Great Coors Brew-Ha-Ha:
Though since merged with other corporations in the beer business, in the1970s Coors was a family-controlled company that filled every can and bottle in a single brewery in Golden, Colorado. Unlike many of its competitors, Coors did not use additives and preservatives. The trade-off: some say better taste, and there was a built-in marketing hook for the anti-additive consumer market. On the other hand, as with just about anything lacking in preservatives, the product had a shorter shelf life. Hence, the answer to Athol’s question: this is why Coors in particular stamps a best-used-by date on its cans.
But that wasn’t all: Coors took the position that anyone who tasted a non-fresh can of their beer would form an incorrect negative impression, and thereby damage the brand. Coors did what it could, with the elements under its control, to maximize the freshness of the beer. Specifically, it sold the beer only to outlets within a day’s drive of the Golden brewery.
As people began traveling more frequently in the Rocky Mountain States, Coors went from being a well-respected regional brand to a cult brand. This being the U.S.A, there were two eminently predictable developments:
1) A gray market network of entrepreneurs sprung up to get the beer to locations outside the 8-hour zone. Sometimes people would carry on a couple of six packs on airplanes, back when you could carry things on airplanes. The mania peaked with the production of the 1977 movie Smokey and the Bandit, a comedy-actioner about a truckload of Coors being illicitly delivered outside the designated zone. (See why we led with the Haldane?)
2) A restraint of trade suit was filed against Coors. (To the best of our knowledge, the lawsuit was never the basis for any sort of movie.) Coors decided to influence the court of public opinion by buying full-page ads in The Washington Post urging East Coasters not to buy their beer, thus ensuring that 20 or so Carmelite nuns, the only U.S. residents who hitherto had no opinion on the controversy, were now fully engaged. (Haldane, again.)
Upshot: Coors lost the legal battle, and wept all the way to the bank as they became a universally known national brand, available just about everywhere today.
This story also came to mind as we spotted the article “16 Brands That Have Fanatical Cult Followings”. Worth checking out the full piece, but (spoiler alert), here’s the list of 16: Wegmans, Lululemon, Linux, Zappos, Surge, Mazda Miata, Vans, Yuengling, Dos Equis, Mini Cooper, Harley-Davidson, Trader Joe’s, Vespa, Mexican Coca Cola, and Ikea.
The authors, Danielle Schlanger and Kim Bhasin explain the omission of Apple, Starbucks, etc. on the grounds that these brands are now too big and widespread to qualify as cults. I suspect everyone has additions to this list of 16; for ours, you’ll need to check the post called “Word Association” on our sister blog, Name Awards.