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Miller Lite to Pour on 'Great Taste' All the Time

Taking Page from Successful Sibling, Lite Plans to Hammer Home Message

By Published on . 1

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- MillerCoors is hoping Miller Lite's future looks an awful lot like Coors Light's recent past.

In an attempt to revive the original light-beer brand, the No. 2 U.S. brewer is purloining the playbook of its rival-turned-sibling, which recently squeaked past it as the No. 2 premium-light-beer brand in the U.S. The game plan: Find your strength and hammer it home.

Cold train
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Coors Light vs. Miller Lite: 2006-2008.
As Coors Light has incessantly repeated its mantra of "cold refreshment" since 2004, Miller Lite will now do the same with "great taste."

Coors Light had the cold-activated bottle and frost-lined can. MillerCoors recently informed wholesalers it will soon be rolling out a taste-protecting cap on traditional bottles, as well as a taste-protecting "aluminum pint."

Coors Light set up all those Cold Trains and Cooler Boxes by first talking about its cold-filtered- brewing process. The first salvo in Miller Lite's coming taste barrage -- previewed at last month's Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference -- is a 15-second spot that focuses on its "triple-hopped" brewing process, touted by Lite as the secret to its taste.

Direct pitch
Subtle, it's not. But then, few brands were more ham-handed in staking out a positioning than Coors Light was with "cold refreshment," and it's grown for 14 consecutive quarters.

A Miller spokesman declined to disclose further details of the upcoming campaign, which he said would be revealed at a wholesaler conference later this month. But he added that the brewer has made no secret of its desire for Miller Lite to "own" "great taste" in the same manner Coors Light "owns" "cold refreshment."

That laser focus has certainly served Coors Light well, steering the brand back into the No. 2 position it lost when it went into a disastrous tailspin in 2002 and 2003 that was fueled by its "Rock On" campaign, which abandoned the brand's long-held Rocky Mountain focus in favor of the curvaceous Coors Twins.

But while Coors has thrived since, Miller Lite has endured a myriad of vague repositionings (above). Having scrapped them all, it's been using a series of seasonal one-offs for the better part of a year.

Given the similarities in the brands' life cycles, MillerCoors CMO Andy England's instinct to apply what worked for Coors Light to Miller Lite is understandable, but he has considerable new obstacles this time around: siblings.

Family affair
Coors Light's gains have been achieved at least in part from Miller Lite's losses during the same period. MillerCoors' successful recent launch of a 64-calorie version of Miller Genuine Draft has appealed to some drinkers of Miller Lite, which has, off and on, used calorie and carbohydrate counts as a selling point. And, in fact, comparative ads drawing calorie and carb contrasts with Bud Light fueled Miller Lite's 2003-2004 gains, considered the best run in its history.

One MillerCoors wholesaler said he'd been told by the brewery that 20% of MGD 64's volume was sourced from Miller Lite. A MillerCoors spokesman downplayed the cannibalization concerns, noting that Lite has been without a campaign for nearly a year. He also noted that the three MillerCoors premium light brands have gained share within that large and growing category.

That's something of a convenient metric, of course, because it excludes Bud Light brewer Anheuser-Busch's slightly pricier Bud Light Lime and Michelob Ultra brands, which have been growing. And beer industry experts say MillerCoors' long-term prospects require getting both Miller and Coors -- which account for more than 50% of its sales -- growing again. "It's going to be very hard for them to get where they want to go without turning (Miller) Lite around," said Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer's Insights.

Miller Lite's agency of record is Publicis-backed Bogle Bartle Hegarty, New York, but it has been handing some assignments on the brand to DraftFCB, which handles Coors Light and did much of the work BBH is now being asked to mimic.

According to TNS, total measured-media spending for the Coors Light brand in 2007 was $141.6 million; $127.4 million was spent on the Miller Lite brand.

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