Steve Buerger

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For years Miller Brewing Co.'s media strategy was simple: Do whatever archrival-and No. 1 brewer-Anheuser-Busch did.

So Miller would show up in a lot of the same sporting events and TV broadcasts, but with a smaller budget. The result: continued sales declines.

But this year the No. 2 brewer has dumped its slavish imitation of A-B's strategy. Instead, it's increasingly going into different outlets.

Steve Buerger, group director-marketing services, is leading that charge.

"We have to build a media strategy that's effective," says Mr. Buerger, "but is efficiently reaching the people we want."

So Miller has pulled back spending on TV sporting events and network even as it has ratcheted up spending on cable and print.

The change in Miller's media plan reflects the brewer's embrace of a challenger positioning. The plan, adopted after months of research following the SAB acquisition, is to position Miller as the alternative to the mainstream beers. That, for the most part, means Bud Light and Budweiser, the No. 1 and No. 2 brands in the country.

From a creative standpoint, the challenger strategy has meant ads touting Miller Lite's taste and carb count over Bud Light.

"Steve and his team continue to elevate our media, sponsorship and relationship marketing planning and execution," says Bob Mikulay, exec VP-marketing at Miller.

From a media standpoint, it means not imitating the buying strategy of a dominant player with bigger budgets. To that end, Miller has worked closely with Publicis Groupe's Starcom USA. "Starcom has been a great resource in terms of helping us understand ... media consumption," he says.

Miller's total spending is consistent with that of previous years, but it's reallocating the dollars. It has scaled back its weight in TV sporting events; Mr. Buerger says a few strategically placed ads can reach as many people as saturation during a given game.

It's also cut back on ads during network sitcoms and other programming because it's too expensive for the reach it provides. Miller takes the savings and plows it in more efficient media. Since the first quarter, Miller has boosted the number of cable stations it advertises on from around 10-chiefly sports-to more than 60, including A&E, Discovery and MSNBC.

The Miller beer drinker "doesn't just watch sports," Mr. Buerger says.

Miller also has dialed up its print ads, digital efforts and non-traditional media plays. For instance, Miller created a short film that ran in segments on ESPN. "Steve is very much the integrator," says Chris Boothe, exec VP at Starcom of Miller's ESPN film and use of multiple channels.

With its new strategies, Miller's marketing appears to have helped the performance of Miller Lite. Lite has racked up 12 straight months of sales gains.

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