After six months of back-and-forth ad volleys, Anheuser-Busch plans to stop deriding its rival and get back to basics. The insult swapping, begun as a clash of the carbs between Bud Light and Miller Lite, escalated over time to involve the A-B ad menagerie from Clydesdales to lizards.
The attack ads were "necessary to level the carb playing field," said Bob Lachky, VP-brand management and director-global brand creative at Anheuser-Busch. But he said the Miller-bashing has done its job, and moving forward, "we're not responding" to further jabs from Miller. "There's no need to respond to them; they're responding to us."
For No. 1 brand Bud Light, that means ads that break around the start of the National Football League season showing people going to great lengths to get the beer. A-B plans to run work from the Chicago and New York offices of DDB Worldwide and Downtown Partners, Toronto, all part of Omnicom Group. New work from Downtown Partners will ridicule the low-carb craze, but that will be small piece of the overall mix.
Meanwhile, Miller is keeping up the heat. Over the weekend it broke the first spots in a campaign from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, in which referees "penalize" people for serving Budweiser or Bud Light.
"The whole idea of the Miller `Good Call' campaign is to help people realize there's a difference between Miller and the mainstream beers," said Victor Rutstein, director-brand development at the SABMiller unit.
Miller started attacking A-B last September with the spot touting Lite's low carb count; Ogilvy, New York, handled that effort. It started piling on with the "President of Beer" campaign from independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., that mocked Bud's "King of Beers" positioning. Work from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., showed people "dumping" Bud for Miller Genuine Draft.
Frankie and Louie
During the spring, A-B responded with "Choose on Taste" spots that didn't specifically mention Lite. It ratcheted up just before Memorial Day with print knocking Miller Lite as the "Queen of Carbs" and resurrected the animatronic lizards Frankie and Louie in spots ridiculing Miller's "President of Beer" ads. Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, handled the lizard spots.
At the time, industry observers questioned A-B's aggressiveness. While No. 2 brands historically have attacked No. 1-Avis vs. Hertz, Pepsi vs. Coke-conventional wisdom says the lead brand shouldn't attack challengers. That sort of attention legitimizes rivals.
But Mr. Lachky maintains A-B was pressed to address the carb issue. "It may not have been as sexy or as fun, but it did the job." Still, he said he is "very happy" to be back on the traditional ad platform. A-B had signaled its new direction with work from DDB, Chicago, that plays up the freshness of Bud Light.
Gains by A-B's low-carb Michelob Ultra and Lite slowed Bud Light's growth in 2003. But Bud Light has shown increased strength over the course of this year. Sales to retailers were up nearly 5% in the second quarter, the company reported.