MillerCoors Hands Miller Lite Account to DraftFCB

Saatchi Bumps Y&R Off MGD, MGD 64 Brands as Part of Larger Agency Consolidation

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB is the new agency of record for slumping Miller Lite, replacing Publicis-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

MillerCoors announced the agency switch today as part of a broader consolidation of its creative and promotional agency rosters, a move that also saw Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi bump longtime Miller agency Y&R, Chicago, off its perch as agency of record for Miller Genuine Draft and MGD 64.

Miller Lite sales declined a whopping 7% in the fourth quarter of 2008, the brand's worst quarter this decade.
Miller Lite sales declined a whopping 7% in the fourth quarter of 2008, the brand's worst quarter this decade.
The move comes nine months after SABMiller and Molson Coors combined their U.S. operations to better compete with the No. 1 brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev. The new company consolidated its media accounts at MC Media, itself a joint venture between DraftFCB, Initiative and Kinetic, in November, and some degree of consolidation had been expected on the creative roster as well.

Only considered roster shops
MillerCoors did not allow outside shops to pitch for the accounts, said Chief Marketing Officer Andy England. "Both Miller and Coors had a talented group of agency partners and there was no reason to look beyond that pool of agencies," Mr. England said. "We recognize there is a benefit in developing long-term relationships with agencies that already fully understand our business."

Much of the speculation about creative-agency changes had centered on Miller Lite, which had been handled primarily by Bartle Bogle since 2007, with little success. The agency's initial campaign -- touting Miller Lite as the "Ultimate Light Beer" -- was killed last year, and Bartle Bogle and DraftFCB had been competing for assignments on the brand since late last year. Miller Lite sales declined a whopping 7% in the fourth quarter of 2008, the brand's worst quarter this decade, and possibly ever, and by more than 3% for the year.

Emma Cookson, CEO of Bartle Bogle, New York, told Ad Age in a statement: "We've been very proud of our work for Miller Lite but have come to believe that we are not fully compatible partners for the future. We wish them great success."

Strategy for Miller Lite
Mr. England, formerly CMO at Coors Brewing Co., drove Coors Light to 14 consecutive quarters of growth through a single-minded focus on "cold refreshment," with DraftFCB as the brand's agency. Mr. England has since indicated that he intended to use a similar strategy to revive Miller Lite -- this time focusing on the brand's taste. Mr. England was apparently more comfortable entrusting that brand strategy with an agency that had already executed it for him.

The shift leaves Draft with MillerCoors' two largest brands, Miller Lite and Coors Light, which both typically spend more than $100 million annually on measured media. Prior to the joint venture, the brands had been viciously competitive and have rarely posted simultaneous market share growth. Solving that riddle will be Draft's key challenge. Draft also handles creative on regular Coors, and, as part of MC Media, it handles media planning for all of MillerCoors.

Saatchi was the other big winner in today's shift, as it picked up creative duties on MGD and MGD 64, as well as for Keystone, a value brand that has been posting robust growth of late. Saatchi already handled Miller High Life.

The MGD move ends Miller's long relationship with Y&R, which dates to the early 1990s. The agency did some of the better-regarded ads for Miller Lite during the brand's 2003-2004 surge, including a highly acclaimed spot that compared Bud drinkers to dominos. Y&R was pushed off the Lite roster in 2005, when the brand was shifted to Crispin Porter & Bogusky, but it grabbed long-declining MGD, which has suffered a string of ineffective repositionings and agency switches that Y&R was not able to put a stop to. Still, the move is surprising because the launch of low-calorie MGD 64, handled by Y&R, surpassed sales expectations and drew creative plaudits last year.

Other roster moves
Sheboygan, Wisc.-based Jacbson-Rost, which handles MillerCoors' Leinenkugel craft beer brand, picked up creative duties on George Killian's Irish Red.

Miller also shuffled retail promotions assignments, giving Miller Lite's promotional account to Omnicom Group's Integer, which already had those duties on Coors and Coors Light. Integer is also promotional and creative agency of record for Blue Moon.

Publicis-owned Arc won retail promotional assignments for Miller High Life, Milwaukee's Best, Miller Chill, Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Grolsch, Keystone and Molson.

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