When MillerCoors announced it was bringing back Zima, the clear malt alcoholic beverage sold as a beer alternative before being discontinued in 2008, the responses basically fell into two camps: those who were nostalgically, if perhaps ironically, excited for its return, and those who rolled their eyes, shuddered and said "blech." But crossing both sides was one overarching question.
Why bring back the fizzy lemon-lime drink with a Slavic name and a zzzany advertising identity nine years after its slumping sales and lack of appeal to its target demographic resulted in its American demise? And why now, at a time when craft beer – effectively Zima’s market foil – is experiencing enormous growth and popularity?
Answer: "It was brought back because '90s inspiration is everywhere, from food to fashion and more – it’s clear the decade has made a comeback," MillerCoors spokesman Marty Maloney told the Business Journal. "That’s why it’s the perfect time for our very own '90s legend, Zima, to return for a limited time."
Yeah, OK, sure. Maybe a retooled version of the ostensibly refreshing beverage that recalls fond memories of a yesterdecade, but updates the look, feel and taste – especially the taste – of a product that ultimately became a pop-culture punchline?
That could be good!
"We got some of the people that worked on Zima in the '90s to recreate the look, feel and taste so that it is almost identical to the original," Maloney said.
Wait, so ... it'll be exactly the same?
All right, well, maybe it is a pure nostalgia play. And that’s fine. Nothing wrong with reminding zillions of grownup '90s teens of simpler days hanging out in their parents’ basement, listening to "Tubthumping," dropping some Watermelon Jolly Ranchers in a bottle of Zima and being excited about Windows 95. Nostalgia definitely sells – and this seems like a better way to do it than reviving Crystal Pepsi.
But here are some other reasons why MillerCoors is bringing back Zima:
Bolstered by a big, if now baffling, advertising campaign – replacing s’s with z’s, calling itself "Zomething different" and in general being pretty bizarre – the then Coors-produced Zima was actually pretty popular when it first came out, selling 1 million barrels in 1993 and garnering 1 percent of the U.S. alcohol market at its peak. It had a sort of cult-like following. Even if those early drinkers’ palates have presumably matured, there’s a built-in consumer base that will probably pick up a six pack just for old times’ sake, and they won’t even need a fake ID to get it anymore. Maybe we go with a new, less-creepy ad campaign, though.
2. Why not?
Zima never took off with young men, and MillerCoors killed it in 2008 – though it has since remained alive, naturally, in Japan. When Zima once again flows across the United States, beginning on the Fourth of July weekend – it should see an initial spike for the outdoor summer holiday – the product will be available nationwide in a limited release. It’s only here until it’s gone, MillerCoors said – or until Labor Day, whichever comes first – so there isn’t much risk if Zima sells poorly, and the delight of its return among its many wistful consumers is certainly good for the brand.
3. Zimilar zuccesses
Zima was the trailblazer for other beer alternatives like Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which were more successful, and it’s expected to augment MillerCoors’ profitable line of Henry’s Hard Sodas that are targeted toward the same demographic Zima was aimed at two decades ago. And while the world was not yet ready for "Zomething different" back then, the brand could briefly steal some market share from Anheuser-Busch InBev’s competitor, Bud Light Lime-a-Rita, and Seagrams’ Lemon-N-Lime Hard Soda. Let's also hope for a Smirnoff Ice-like challenge, where you get "Zima'd" and have to do something dumb!
Thanks largely to an unexpected boost from hipsters, Pabst Blue Ribbon experienced a major comeback over the past decade, with its sales jumping 19 percent from 2009 to 2011 and its growth by volume vastly outpacing Bud Light and other competitors. In the '90s, Zima cultivated a kind of grungy, alternative image – or a girly one, depending on who you ask. Perhaps MillerCoors is hoping for a similar, PBR-like resurgence among a new audience, with its tongues in cheek and its taste buds in distress.
5. It's cold
Apparently, the main thrust (?) of Zima's original ad campaigns was that it was cold and refreshing. According to some scientists, it's even hotter now than it was in the '90s, but regardless of that, it's still going to be summertime and you probably need to cool off/have your body and the surrounding area freeze over, which the beverage can accomplish.
6. We still have Jolly Ranchers
Zima paired well doctored with Jolly Ranchers. And Skittles. And, hey, we still have those around! Just try it.
7. Zima is reliable
Particularly during this uncertain and tumultuous time for our nation, when we can’t be sure what might make America great again, it’s dependably reassuring to know that – no matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, no matter how you feel about this polarizing clear malt beverage from the '90s – Zima is, for better and for worse, still Zima. Enjoy!
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.