TBWA Wins Miller Lite After Agency Shootout

The Omnicom Shop Beats Leo Burnett and WPP

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Miller Lite Original Can
Miller Lite Original Can
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MillerCoors is looking to the West Coast for creative inspiration, tapping TBWA Worldwide's Los Angeles office as Miller Lite's agency of record. The Omnicom shop beat out Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett and WPP's Royal Order, which both pitched the account from their Chicago offices during a review for the nation's fourth-largest beer brand that began last month.

Omnicom will also pick up Hispanic advertising for the brand via Dallas-based Dieste, which will take over from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Casanova Pendrill.

The move to TBWA signals a significant geographic shift for the brand, which had in recent years been run by agencies in Chicago and New York. It also means that Omnicom Group will control major creative accounts for MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, the nation's two largest brewers. Omnicom Group's BBDO has Bud Light.

MIllerCoors did not make a "deliberate choice to work with a California agency," Chief Marketing Officer Andy England said in an interview. "But I will say that I think the sensibility that a California agency brought to the brief was critical." He added that Los Angeles "at this point is at the intersection of all great things: creativity, design, technology, entertainment, music -- it's all happening in L.A. right now."

Asked if he had any concerns about Bud Light's presence at Omnicom, Mr. England said, "It's about the best agency" and TBWA was "the best agency for the job," adding that "they really understand our brand and our consumer."

WPP had been working on the account on a project basis since April, after the brand cut ties with Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, which had split the account with WPP beginning in February. WPP had been using talent from Ogilvy and Johannes Leonardo. Royal Order was formed specifically for the MillerCoors business and was led by Ogilvy, Chicago.

All of the agencies invited to pitch Lite had existing links to MillerCoors.TBWA Worldwide's Integer Group works on Blue Moon, while Leo Burnett has creative for Miller High Life. WPP's Cavalry has Coors brands.

MillerCoors spent $160 million on measured media on Lite in 2013, according to Kantar Media. This year, the brewer continues to pour more marketing behind its retro packaging that first started rolling out late last year and harkens back to Lite's creation in the 1970s as the nation's first mainstream light beer. In August, MillerCoors told distributors in a memo that it was doubling its originally planned media buy for September, and plans to "make an even bigger splash with the new visual identity in October."

Cans have been sold with the retro look all year and now the brand is converting bottles to the white packaging. The vintage look has given the long-struggling brand a boost, but Lite still hasn't broken into positive territory. Sales-to-retailers declined by low single digits in the second quarter, the brewer reported. Volume sales at stores declined by 1.3% in the 52 weeks ending July 13, while dollar sales remained flat at nearly $1.9 billion, according to IRI.

Mr. England said Miller Lite's heritage play is a "wonderful example" of "millennials caring about authenticity." The brand, he said, "has spent a very long time, including on my watch, trying to be more interesting and trying to be more sexy." But "what we discovered is that when we went back to our roots ... it was embraced by young and old."

The resulting strategy, which will be undertaken by TBWA, is "coming back to the fact that Miller Lite is a great-tasting beer," Mr. England said. "I think light beer has wandered" as a category, and Miller Lite "has come back to really talking about beer."

TBWA's debut campaign is expected by early next year.