MillerCoors looks to create buzz and attract millennials with a higher-alcohol brew -- that, ahem, happens to share a name with a most excellent business publication.
FORTUNE – Here at Fortune, we’re pretty proud of our name. When Time co-founder Henry Luce decided to launch a business magazine in 1930, just months after the Wall Street crash, he wanted a title that would convey the importance of commerce. He considered names like “Power” and “Tycoon” before making his choice. In the decades since, the name Fortune has become synonymous with dynamism, achievement, and influence.
Now it will also be associated with beer.
In early February, brewing giant MillerCoors launched a new brand with a name that couldn’t help but catch our eye: Miller Fortune. Let’s be clear. This is not an official experiment in co-branding a beer with a magazine. Frankly, we were just as surprised as everyone else to learn that the word “fortune” would now be used to market hoppy beverages as well as high-quality business news and analysis.
Once we got over the shock, however, we quickly decided that it was our duty to learn more about why our name had been appropriated — and whether the beer was any good.
Here’s the history. The origins of Miller Fortune go back 18 months. Executives at MillerCoors, a joint venture of SABMiller and Molson Coors TAP , were looking for a strategy to gain back some of the share that beer has lost to wine and spirits over the past decade. So the company’s brewers concocted a new beer that has a higher-than-average alcohol content for a MillerCoors offering (6.9%) and is maltier than the company’s other products. In branding the beer, its marketers decided that they wanted to play off the idea of “unlocking possibilities.”
“There’s that inflection point that guys see in their nights — the do-I-stay-or-do-I-go moment, this decision point,” says David Kroll, head of innovation for MillerCoors, paraphrasing the lyrics of the great Mick Jones of The Clash. “Do I go home and get eight hours sleep, or do I keep the night going? We want to own that moment. We’re a bit of an instigator for making that decision.” (If we’re being honest, the average Fortune reader probably goes home at that moment and answers e-mails for two hours before sacking out.)
Kroll and his team wanted the name to suggest an element of mystery. They were thinking of words like luck, destiny, kismet, opportunity, fate, and chance. But in the end they didn’t come up with anything that resonated as strongly as fortune.
Some observers believe they made a smart choice. “In this case the team at Miller clearly loved everything about the brand name ‘fortune’ because it has so many meanings, and it is incredibly catchy,” says Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. We won’t argue with his assessment.
The company is hoping that Miller Fortune will speak to its target consumer group: millennials, who define success very differently from Gen Xers or boomers, Kroll says. While the latter group may associate fortune with wealth, for millennials fortune is more than financial reward. Is that why they didn’t name the beer Miller Money? “That would be a different magazine,” Kroll says.
Branding experts say it’s incredibly difficult to come up with a unique name these days because there are so many products out there. That means companies must always think about preexisting associations. “They clearly thought about the fact that there’s a media platform with the same brand name,” Calkins says. “They didn’t come up with it and say, ‘Who knew there was a magazine with the same name?’”
Furthermore, Calkins says that we here at Fortune should be flattered, because MillerCoors wouldn’t want a name with a questionable association. “If it wasn’t a pretty good magazine, they would not have picked the name,” he says. “You wouldn’t see a National Enquirer beer coming out.”
MillerCoors will begin a major marketing blitz for Miller Fortune on March 3. Experts say there’s little concern about “fortune” brand confusion, since it’s unlikely that MillerCoors is going to branch out into business journalism. “I don’t think you have to worry about people changing their subscription to that one,” says Robert Passikoff of research consultancy Brand Keys. (Kroll of MillerCoors confirmed that no plans to produce a magazine were in the works.)
Nevertheless, says Neil Morgan, a marketing professor at Indiana University’s business school, a natural connection could still exist: “Reading one while drinking the other may improve both experiences.”
Which brings us to the beer itself. Is it a quality product? How does it taste? Fortune conducted a taste test, and our verdict is: Not bad. With such a cool name, Fortune might have staying power. Like Fortune.