A-B DEBUTS $30 MIL CAMPAIGN FOR MICHELOB ON OLYMPICS: BREWER CONCENTRATES ON LIGHT BRAND IN A SIGNIFICANT SWITCH IN AD FOCUS

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Anheuser-Busch is putting the spotlight on Michelob Light in a $30 million brand-family campaign that breaks next month during the Winter Olympics' opening ceremonies.

Designed to highlight the superpremium status of the brew, the tagline for the humorous ads is "Beer . . . or Michelob?"

"They're situational spots where the brand stands for a more upscale beer," said Bob Lachky, VP-brand management for A-B.

Media for the campaign will include TV, radio, outdoor and point of purchase.

Leap Partnership, Chicago, is the agency.

AD SPENDING INCREASE

The spending is a big increase from last year. The Michelob family received $4.2 million in measured media, according to Competitive Media Reporting, during the first nine months of '97 as A-B channeled most of its marketing dollars toward Budweiser and Bud Light.

Not surprisingly, sales for the Michelob brand fell. Michelob Light dropped 5.4% to 5.8 million cases, while Michelob fell 14.2% to 3.6 million cases, according to Information Resources Inc.

Michelob Light was the No. 13 beer in 1996 and Michelob No. 14, according to Impact.

Besides the lack of marketing support, the losses were attributable to heavy discounting and competition from specialty and craft brews, Mr. Lachky said.

But A-B is betting it can turn those trends in '98. The improved sales performance of Bud last year will allow the company to increase its ad spending, and A-B is hoping consumers will return to tried-and-true brands after years of sampling specialty brews, which are now showing signs of decline.

CATEGORY HEALTHY

A-B is concentrating on Michelob Light because the light category overall has been growing consistently, and because the brand took less of a sales hit than Michelob last year, Mr. Lachky said.

This is a significant shift in ad focus. According to CMR, Michelob received $13.5 million in support in 1996 while Michelob Light received $3.3 million. Of the little support during the first three months of 1997, Michelob received $2.8 million and Light, $580,000.

LIKE BUD, LESS `WACKY'

The TV spots will be similar in spirit to those for Bud Light but less wacky, Mr. Lachky said. In one, for instance, a movie actor is in a scene where he has to ask for a beer; instead, and to the director's rage, he repeatedly asks for a Michelob Light.

"I like the fact they're supporting Michelob Light," said one Northeastern wholesaler. "It's performed . . . nowhere near its potential."

Besides introducing new ads, A-B is tinkering with Michelob's packaging graphics to give it a more "classic" look, Mr. Lachky said, although the teardrop bottle remains.

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