Miller Names BBH as Agency of Record for Lite

Agency Beats Saatchi, Y&R for $106 Million Beer Brand

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Miller Brewing Co. has named Bartle Bogle Hegarty agency of record for its flagship Miller Lite brand, following a competitive review.
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Other contenders
Bartle Bogle's New York office bested Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, and WPP Group's Y&R, Chicago, in the final round of the contest for duties on Lite, which received $106 million in measured media spending last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

" BBH demonstrated great insight into the character of our brand and our core consumers," Randy Ransom, Miller's chief marketing officer, said in a statement. "They have shown an ability to work collaboratively and to engage our consumers creatively. They are passionate about the beer business. And, with their previous experience working with the nuances of a three-tier system, we know that they will make great partners as we accelerate the momentum of our flagship brand."

Miller's distributor network is said to have loomed large during the review, as agencies were repeatedly grilled on how they'd sell ideas through to wholesalers. Some of those wholesalers were bitterly disenchanted with Lite's previous agency, Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, Miami, and its failed "Man Laws" campaign, which stoked social currency but didn't sell beer. (Lite's sales declined during 2006 while rivals Coors Light and Bud Light posted gains.)

Crispin quit in March, not long after Miller canned "Man Laws" and began making some simple, comparative Lite ads in-house.

Targeting the distributor
The affection of distributors is particularly important to Miller because, unlike Anheuser-Busch and its exclusive distributor network, it shares many of its key wholesalers with Coors Brewing Co. "In a lot of ways, the target for them isn't the consumer, it's the distributor," said one review participant. "You need to motivate them to get the good displays and the best shelf space."

Miller was also said to have made a priority that the winner would work well with its other agencies. One session during the review put the competing agencies in a room with representatives from the brewer's other shops, a list that includes Publicis shops Digitas (digital), Arc Worldwide (marketing services) and Starcom USA (media), as well as independent Schupp Co. (promotions), asking them for ideas on how to make awards won by Miller Lite's relevant to 20-somethings.

Despite Miller's deep relationship with Publicis (Bartle Bogle is 49%-owned by the holding company), its two previous collaborations with Publicis creative shops have produced some of the most-mocked beer advertising of all time. On Leo Burnett's watch in the 1980s, Lite surrendered the No. 1 Lite beer positioning -- and the classic "Tastes Great, Less Filling" tagline during a series of short-lived campaigns, including the particularly awful "It's It and That's That" effort. A few years later, Fallon McElligott followed that forgettable effort with the bizarre "Dick" campaign.

Ad improvement in 2002
The effectiveness of Miller's advertising improved dramatically after 2002, when a roster of shops including WPP Group's Y&R and Ogilvy & Mather; Interpublic Group of Cos.' Martin Agency; and independent Wieden & Kennedy helped it gain market share, forcing an early 2005 price cut by A-B that has left Miller reeling ever since.

It wasn't immediately clear what BBH's plans for the brand were, but Miller CEO Tom Long has indicated a desire to return to feisty, comparative advertising. And the recent self-produced Miller ads draw comparisons not just to Bud Light, but also to import beers, cocktails and wine -- a reflection of the myriad forces chipping away at the big domestic brewers' market share.

Bartle Bogle has extensive alcohol-marketing experience through its relationship with spirits behemoth Diageo, as well as with several of beer giant InBev's brands, including Boddingtons beer. Diageo last year forced Bartle Bogle to resign its Smirnoff Twisted Tea account due to a perceived conflict with the beer brands, but allowed Bartle Bogle to continue working on its other brands, including Bailey's and Johnnie Walker.

"We love Miller's 'able challenger' approach and know that we will create engaging work that will help fuel the momentum behind Miller Lite, one of the best brands of the past 30 years," said Gwyn Jones, CEO of Bartle Bogle, New York. "Miller's RFP process was smart, extremely clear, and unlike any others we have participated in."

Y&R, Chicago, retains its Miller Genuine Draft and Miller Chill accounts.

In a press release, Miller said it would make a decision on whom to award creative duties on Miller High Life -- previously handled by Crispin -- within a few weeks.

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Brooke Capps contributed to this report.
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