Malt liquor was invented in the 1930’s after the repeal of prohibition. It was a time when beer came up short compared to moonshine and The Great Depression greatly limited resources. Enter “The Forty”, a space and time-saver, which was initially marketed to white upper middle class Americans and portrayed as the champagne of beers. Colt 45 was invented in 1964 and got real when its marketing instead focused less on aspirations and more on the “kick in the can”. Why hide the potent beverage’s secret weapon?


That’s exactly what the folks at Colt 45 were thinking when they rebranded the product in the mid 80’s using spokesman Billy Dee Williams and the tagline, “Works every time”. A handsome black actor made famous by his portrayal of Lando Calrissean in George Lucas’s film Star-Wars, Billy Dee Williams represented Colt 45’s push to market their products to African-Americans. Eventually, malt liquor would be seen as a product designed specifically for the urban black audience. This sentiment culminated in the ubiquity of forties as a prop in the portrayal of ‘ghetto culture’ in such films as John Singleton’s “Boyz in the Hood” and N.W.A.’s hit rap album “Straight Outta Compton”.






Malt liquor is in a category of alcoholic beverages that is over-focused on   marketing to the lowest common denominator. The category is saturated with a homogenous group of brands, all claiming to be the biggest and the baddest. How can the Colt 45 brand differentiate itself from the competition without losing its authenticity and original voice?






Expand the brand’s target audience. Position Colt 45 uniquely within its category by rebranding it as not just street tough but also ironic and inclusive. Spread the word using non-traditional media to hit the new audience where they’re at. Saturate their experience with Colt 45’s new cultural image.


Target Market:

21-27 year-old upper middle class hipsters, students and young adults.

21-27 year-old urban, working class individuals, students and young adults.






Colt 45 has a strong brand history rooted in its initial brand voice, which was unabashedly tough. Over the years it paced it self with American culture using popular black celebrities, initially with Billy Dee Williams and eventually Fab 5 Freddy. Recently cultural trends tend toward a more hip, witty and light-hearted attitude. Colt 45’s new branding message is aimed at the heart of these ideas.