MillerCoors is bringing back the High Life Man. Starting Monday, the brewer will reprise three classic ads for Miller High Life in several Midwest markets from a campaign that ran from 1999 to 2004. Spots feature a plainspeaking everyman who pondered topics like the fact that "beef" and "beer" have only one letter different.
The campaign was by Wieden & Kennedy, which today works for competitor Bud Light. The director was Errol Morris. The ads will run in Midwestern markets through the end of the year, including Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The decision to bring the ads back came after the 112-year-old brand experienced success selling cans and bottles packaged in vintage designs, said Kedric George, director of heritage and economy brands for MillerCoors. The limited-edition, retro packaging hit the market in October and the brewer recently decided to extend the program through January.
"We've had a great history of advertising on this brand with some phenomenal campaigns going back decades," Mr. George said. "So we really thought it would be a good idea to support our vintage and heritage bottles that we have in market right now with some of the campaigns from years past." The brewer chose the three High Life Man spots based on the "wit and smart humor" they display, he said.
High Life made another retro play earlier this year when the brand began selling a clothing line inspired by some of its early advertising, like the early 20th Century "Girl on the Crate" ads. The so-called High Life Heritage Collection is sold online.
The High Life Man campaign was credited for sparking a renaissance for the brand, boosting sales from 1998 to 2004. The effort was scrapped in 2005 for more upscale ads that featured the brand's "Girl in the Moon" icon. But sales fell and that campaign was quickly pulled as Miller parted with W&K in favor of Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. CP&B returned the beer to a blue-collar positioning with ads featuring a beer truck driver.
The brand is now with Leo Burnett, which in 2014 created High Life's current "I Am Rich" campaign. Ads give the economy brand a more hipster feel with ads that use ironic lines juxtaposing wealthy terms with common-man living. The brand has also put more emphasis on its classic "Champagne of Beers" tagline.
Mr. George said High Life is sticking with the "I Am Rich" campaign and that new spots are being produced for next year. "We love that campaign," he said. "It has a type of wit and smart humor to it that we love."
Still, High Life has recently suffered along with most economy beer brands, which have struggled to grow volume. In the third quarter, High Life sales declined "mid-single digits," the brewer reported.
"We've seen a lot of the brands in the economy segment struggle," Mr. George said. "The goal for High Life is to continue to penetrate our target consumer: that millennial consumer looking for authenticity, looking for things that are real, looking for things that are different. And we've seen a lot of success there."
When Miller pulled the High Life Man ads, the decision drew a sharp rebuke from then-Ad Age Executive Editor Jonah Bloom, who in a 2005 column described the campaign this way:
In an era when much advertising feels fake, especially brewers' ads, which tend to depict too-preened girlymen prancing around predictably beautiful women, the High Life man has been an honest, authentic campaign that regular beer drinkers could relate to. More young men than ever before are deserting beer for fancy liquors and silly spritzers -- on-premise spirit sales grew an estimated 10% last year, while beer sales declined -- and here was a campaign reminding us real men drink beer. It played perfectly into the cultural backlash against metrosexuality, it spoke to those of us who still aspire to our stoic fathers and grandfathers, who built stuff, who knew stuff.
Here are two other spots High Life will bring back: