MillerCoors Launches Creative Review on Miller Lite

Brewer Invites Three Agencies to Pitch Ideas

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Miller Lite Original Can
Miller Lite Original Can

The Miller Lite creative account is up for grabs again. MillerCoors has launched a formal review for the nation's fourth-largest beer brand, inviting agencies from three holding companies to pitch ideas.

The brewer has sent request-for-proposals to Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, Chicago, Omnicom Group's TBWA, Los Angeles and a new entity within WPP led by Ogilvy, Chicago called Royal Order.

The shops will present ideas for ads that MillerCoors plans to debut in March, and the winning agency will become the brand's new agency of record, Chief Marketing Officer Andy England said in an interview. MillerCoors spent $160 million on measured media on Lite in 2013, according to Kantar Media.

The account has been in flux since since the brewer cut ties with Interpublic's FCB in early 2012, after the brand failed to emerge from a years-long slump. Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, New York assumed control from FCB but then lost the account in April of this year when MillerCoors shifted duties on a project basis to a collection of WPP shops. The WPP shops, which include Ogilvy and Johannes Leonardo, began splitting the account with Saatchi in February.

Since leaving Saatchi, "it was always our intention to do a review of the Miller Lite situation … but we wanted to take the time to think about what we did next," Mr. England said. "We needed to make a very … thoughtful decision about what to do."

Mr. England said Miller Lite will keep digital duties with Publicis Groupe's DigitasLBi.

All of the agencies invited to pitch Lite have existing relationships with MillerCoors. TBWA Worldwide's Integer Group works on Blue Moon, Leo Burnett has creative for Miller High Life, while Royal Order is essentially the same team that has been handling Lite since it departed Saatchi. In addition to Ogilvy, WPP has used talent from Johannes Leonardo, New York.

Chicago-based MillerCoors' deepest relationship with Leo Burnett is through its promotional agency division, called Arc, which has long worked with the brewer. "We know those folks very well on the promotion side, and we know them somewhat well on the advertising side," Mr England said. "And we are excited to get to know what one of our hometown agencies can do to really accelerate the trends we have on Miller Lite."

But WPP could be in a good position to defend, considering the recent upswing in Lite trends. Sales began improving this year after the brewer late last year began rolling out retro packaging that harkens back to Lite's creation in the 1970s as the nation's first mainstream light beer. But the brand still hasn't broken into positive territory. Sales to retailers declined by low single digits in the second quarter, the brewer recently reported.

WPP's ads have used the retro packaging cues to make intentionally over-the-top claims related to Lite's heritage. One spot airing now links Lite's lower-calorie appeal to "fewer guys with beer bellies," suggesting that has led to more dates with women, wedding bells and ultimately childbirths, or as the spot suggests, Miller Lite "invented light beer … and you."

Mr. England declined to reveal what he wants in next year's advertising. But he said, "I think the Original [retro] can and our learnings about why that has resonated so well have clearly informed our strategy."

The Lite review comes as the brewer also confronts declining sales trends on its largest brand, Coors Light, which is handled by WPP's Cavalry. Mr. England said there are no plans to change agencies on the brand, which will debut new ads this fall.

"We think we understand what ails Coors, and we have a tight understanding with the team at Cavalry and they are working hard to address the challenges," Mr. England said.