How 1970s-Era Cans Are Making Miller Lite Groovy Again

New Ads Also Coming for High Life and Coors Light Summer Brew

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For several years MillerCoors has been searching for answers to revive its struggling Miller Lite brand. As it turns out, all the brewer had to do was look backwards, to the 1970s and its original can design.

The limited edition packaging that began late last year has proven so successful that the brand is making it the cornerstone of its 2014 marketing plans.

Miller Lite Original Can
Miller Lite Original Can

A series of ads by a coalition of WPP agencies will use humor to reinforce Lite's credentials as the original light beer.

One spot (above) even flashes back to one of Lite's early ads starring Bob Uecker, while making the tongue-in cheek point that the brand's launch in 1975 led to everything from subliminal beer advertising to widely used shots of hand models reaching for icy cold brews. Another ad puts a sarcastic spin on the brew's lower calorie count (considered revolutionary at the time of its launch) by showing vintage clips of people counting calories, doing crunches and using exercise equipment like thigh-masters and butt-masters.

Older drinkers like the original white can design "because they remember it and it brings back great memories," said MillerCoors Chief Marketing Officer Andy England. And "millennials really like it because of its authenticity, which is such an important trend these days," he added. "It's turned from a can program really into a very strong brand story and one we are excited to tell."

Part of the campaign includes a series of 15-second ads by Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi that are more straightforward in nature, touting the credentials of the brew, including its pilsner characteristics.

The early returns are positive on the retro packaging, which hit stores in December and was recently extended to run at least through the fall.

Lite, which is the fourth-largest beer in the U.S. had been steadily losing ground in recent years, including dropping from 6.9% market share in 2012 to 6.5% last year, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. But Lite gained sales and share in the period running from Jan. 1 to March 8, which coincides with the launch of the throwback cans, according to MillerCoors, which cited Nielsen data. The brewer touted those results at a private distributors meeting this week in San Diego, where it noted that Bud Light was down by 0.4% volume share in the period, according to a report by Beer Marketer's Insights.

Miller Brewing Co. obtained the "Lite" trademark in 1972 when then-parent company Philip Morris bought Chicago's MeisterBrau brewery. The brand convinced drinkers to try the lower-calorie brew with the legendary "Tastes great, less filling" campaign, which Ad Age ranked as the 8th-best campaign of the 20th Century.

This summer, Lite will convert bottles to the original design, and by the end of the year the brewer will be "refreshing literally the entire brand identity," Mr. England said.

Here is a quick look at what MillerCoors is up to with some of its other key brands:

Miller High Life

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The brand, which has been off TV for a while, is going back on air with a new campaign by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett/Arc that seeks to give the economy brand a more hipster feel, while playing up the decades-old "Champagne of Beers" tagline. The ironic "I Am Rich" campaign was shot in black-and-white film and "juxtaposes extreme wealth with what really matters in life, which is having great friends and having fun," Mr. England said.

Coors Light

One new ad by Commonground will support the brand's new citrus-flavored seasonal Summer Brew line extension that will hit stores in May.

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The brand will also continue its "Explorers" campaign, including a new ad by agency Commonground called "Wingsuit."

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Also, Coors Light will rotate different contemporary bottle designs throughout the year to "keep it fresh and interesting," Mr. England said, noting that the brand was partly inspired by the rotating Nike-designed uniforms worn by the University of Oregon sports teams.

Coors Banquet

Banquet, which has been gaining sales in recent years, will get a significant media investment increase in 2014, Mr. England said. One new ad by Cavalry features Coors family member Pete Coors, marking his first appearance in an ad since 2005.

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