Events, promo push: Miller unleashes $165M bar bender

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Rather than relying on TV advertising to reach twenty-somethings, Miller Brewing Co. is ramping up efforts to reach younger drinkers at the point of sale-in bars and entertainment venues-and is seeking agencies to help leverage its $165 million promotion and events budget.

Miller's move comes as events and other below-the-line tactics assume greater prominence in alcoholic-beverage marketing in an age of media fragmentation. It's also on the defensive against spirits marketers that have taken share from beer in bars and clubs, partly because of aggressive promotional efforts appealing to the key demographic.

It isn't alone in bellying up to the bar: A-B, recognizing the incursion by spirits, has said it plans to step up promotional activity (AA, Sept. 20), and is running a promotion touting fresh-brewed beer.

"Entry-level beer drinkers are watching less TV," said Todd Brachman, a marketing executive with Miller from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s who is a consultant and lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee business school. "They really have to work on events the young people go to." Beer volume on-premise slipped by nearly 1% in 2003, according to the consultant Beverage Marketing, while that of spirits grew 7%.

Miller, a unit of SABMiller, is talking to five promotion agencies and two event-marketing shops regarding the work, which will focus on building brand equity and sales for its "trademark" brands Miller Lite and Genuine Draft, a spokesman for the brewer confirmed.

Two promotion incumbents, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Zipatoni, St. Louis, and Omnicom Group's Promotion Network, Dallas, are competing in the promotional review. Event-marketing firm GMR Marketing, New Berlin, Wis., part of Omnicom Group, is one of the two finalists in the event review. The names of the other contenders could not be confirmed by press time.

promo outlays: $90 million

Miller wouldn't comment on spending. But a marketing executive familiar with Miller pegged promotion outlays at about $90 million and event marketing-largely concerts-at $75 million. By comparison it spent $219 million on measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. A Miller spokesman declined to comment.

Miller already has emphasized promotion as part of its "Good Call" umbrella advertising campaign, which positions Miller Lite and Genuine Draft as the better-tasting alternatives to Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light and Budweiser. For instance, it conducted hundreds of thousands of taste tests pitting its brews against A-B's in bars. It subsequently aired ads showing people choosing Miller beers. In conjunction with ads that shows referees flagging people for drinking Bud or Bud Light, Miller has sent people dressed as referees into bars.

The brewer's review represents an ongoing overhaul of Miller's marketing strategy since South African Breweries acquired it from Philip Morris Cos. in 2002.

After the acquisition, Miller took its strategic planning in-house. Miller launched the review because the new management wanted to make sure it had the best resources, not because of any dissatisfaction with the incumbents, the spokesman said.

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