Beer Wars Heat Up as Miller Lite Calls Out Bud Light By Name in Ads

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Miller Lite is taking a newly aggressive position against top rival Bud Light in a new ad that mocks its competitor's tagline, "Raise one to right now."

In a spot breaking on TV on Oct. 2, Miller Lite retorts, "Bud Light says raise one to right now, so why not raise the right one," before adding, "Miller Lite has more taste and half the carbs." Three additional ads will continue the theme.

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Miller Lite has 3.2 grams of carbs per 12-ounce serving and 96 calories. Bud Light has 6.6 grams of carbs and 110 calories.

The ad, by 180LA, is evidence that MillerCoors is prepared to adopt a new strategy of taking on Anheuser-Busch InBev head-on. MillerCoors Chief Marketing Officer David Kroll is expected to outline the brewer's new strategy on Monday in a private meeting with MillerCoors distributors in Chicago. "We are taking a more assertive stance," he will say, according to a copy of his prepared remarks shared with Ad Age. He will attempt to draw a contrast between Miller Lite and Bud Light by suggesting MillerCoors talks about its beer while Bud Light "has intensified its old approach of hiding behind sophomoric humor."

"First, they hid their beer behind a frat-boy lifestyle in the 'Up for Whatever' campaign. Then they hid behind celebrities with the 'Bud Light Party.' And now they're hiding behind logos … actually admitting that Bud Light is nothing more than 'A Beer with a Team on It,' " he will say, according to the prepared remarks.

The remarks are an attempt to frame Bud Light's two ongoing campaigns by Wieden & Kennedy. The politically themed "Bud Light Party" campaign stars Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen and seeks to humorously inject the brew into topical issues, while backing progressive positions such as equal pay for women and gay rights. Bud Light's NFL-themed campaign promotes the brew's limited-time can designs that feature team logos.

One of Miller Lite's new ads states: "Apparently Bud Light is inviting everyone to join their party. Thanks for the invite, we'll bring Miller Lite." MillerCoors is also planning to run an ad in Monday's Chicago Tribune repeating the message that "Miller Lite is brewed to have more taste than Bud Light and yet fewer calories and half the carbs." The ad comes as thousands of beer distributors convene in Chicago for the annual National Beer Wholesalers Association meeting.

While comparison ads are common in other categories, MillerCoors and A-B InBev have mostly refrained from taking each other on by name in recent years. So Miller Lite's spots could mark a new chapter in the beer wars.

Asked to respond to Miller Lite's ads, an Anheuser-Busch InBev spokeswoman in a statement said: "We are proud that Bud Light continues to be the most popular beer in America. However, we are never complacent and we continue to work hard to give our consumers the crisp, refreshing taste they prefer, and maintain our No. 1 spot. We just launched our new NFL team cans and are excited for the NFL season."

In an interview earlier this year, Anheuser-Busch InBev U.S. Marketing VP Jorn Socquet rejected the idea that Bud Light's newest campaigns were sophomoric. While he conceded that until recently the brand was "telling jokes for the sake of telling jokes," he described the Bud Light Party campaign as "the most inclusive campaign that Bud Light has ever done."

Both brands have struggled to grow in recent years amid competition from craft brews and liquor. Bud Light, which is the nation's top-selling brew, saw sales volume drop 4.5% in the four weeks through Sept. 10 and is down 2.8% year-to-date, according to Nielsen data cited by Beer Marketer's Insights. Miller Lite, which ranks fourth, declined 2.8% in the period and is down 0.8% for the year.

Miller Lite's new ads continue to use the "spelled different because it's brewed different" tagline that debuted in March. That is a reference to "Lite," which is the way the brand has been spelled since it launched in 1975 as the first mainstream light beer. The campaign, which was launched under TBWAChiat/Day, was intended to emphasize the brand's liquid and heritage, as well as provide a contrast to Bud Light's humorous approach.

In a March interview, Mr. Kroll suggested that MillerCoors' marketing lost its way in recent years because "we deviated years ago from actually talking about the beer in some respects." He said that the brewer "started chasing the competition in trying to out-funny the competition."

The new ad is the first significant new TV work from 180LA, which replaced TBWA/Chiat/Day as Lite's lead agency in April.