Like its equally transparent younger sibling Crystal Pepsi, the citrus-flavored malt liquor beverage known as Zima caused a stir in the mid-‘90s when it first hit shelves, and then quickly faded into obscurity. Now, two and-a-half decades after it was introduced, this ‘90s oddity is on the brink of a comeback. Beer Business Daily reports that the fizzy elixir will “allegedly be offered for a limited time only.” Apparently, the Zima stock has already shipped to distribution warehouses.
A MillerCoors spokesperson teased the return of the see-through hooch last week, telling AdWeek that more news was on the way. The Internet is already freaking out about the return of this most unusual beverage. As a primer for the forthcoming Zimapocalypse, here are 10 things to know about the low-ABV drink that was the butt of so many jokes during the Clinton administration:
1) With beer sales on the decline throughout the early ‘90s, Coors decided to create a new drink from scratch. The result was a carbonated citrus wine cooler that was clear, like the new versions of Pepsi and Tab. The company’s senior vice president of marketing at the time, William H. Weintraub, explained: "The logic was: What can we do to be different, appeal to young adults, with minimal cannibalization of our existing business?"
2) Jane Espenson, of the marketing firm Lexicon Branding, suggested that the beverage giant use “zima,” the Russian word for winter, as the name for this new drink. (Bonus Fact: Espenson would later go on to write for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Game of Thrones.)
3) Riffing on the idea of drink that was different from the rest of the pack, Coors decided to package Zima in unusual clear, fluted-glass bottles.
4) The drink, which was 4.7 percent alcohol by volume, tested very well before the official launch in 1994. One Coors executive remarked: “This was something like the results of a Coors Light introduction ... These were the highest numbers we’d ever seen.” As the company would later find out, bargoers were curious to try Zima, but they were not interested in ordering follow-up rounds.
5) Coors spent $38 million on advertising. The campaign featured one of the first-ever websites for a food product, which had a downloadable Zima game and soap opera-themed video series.
6) But the drink’s TV ads left the biggest impact on pop culture. These clips were like ironic send-ups of traditional beer commercials: Instead of beautiful people cracking open frosty bottles of brew, the Zimaverse was populated by slackers and oddballs drinking clear malt liquor in a junk land:
Another ad featured an alternative version of a meet-cute at a bar:
And the hook for this commercial is that Zima is something you can drink if all the beer suddenly gets raptured off the face of the earth:
7) Zima sales were initially strong — an estimated 70 percent of all drinkers tried the stuff. But its popularity quickly cooled, largely because, well, a lot of people didn’t like the flavor. Robert Joanis, the vice president of marketing for Coors’s micro-brewing unit, remarked: “We had people who liked the idea but not the taste."
8) Zima became the subject of a many, many jokes from David Letterman, who suggested that it was the preferred beverage of kooky senators, Santa Claus, and the ghost of Elvis. On one episode, filmed shortly after the drink’s launch, Letterman turned to band leader Paul Shaffer and asked, “Hey, Paul, what’s the deal with this Zima crap?”
9) After learning that the drink was more popular with women than men, Coors decided to introduce a new bourbon-flavored iteration of the beverage, dubbed Zima Gold, aimed at the fellas. The experiment was a complete flop, and the brand’s sales dropped by 50 percent during its second year.
10) After spending $180 million trying to get America hooked on Zima, Coors stopped producing the beverage in 2008. A one-time affiliate of the company kept making it for the Japanese market, where it remains relatively popular.
Like the original launch, the re-release of Zima sounds like a gamble — it’s nostalgia bait geared toward Gen Xers and Old Millennials, plain and simple. But maybe — just maybe! — America will catch Zima fever this time around. Stay tuned for more updates on the unlikely Zima comeback as they become available.
• Remember Zima? Clear Malt Beverage Is Poised for Comeback [AdWeek]
• Why Zima Faded So Fast [Bloomberg]
• Zomething Different: The Zima Story [Mental Floss]
• All Pop Culture Coverage [E]