When it put the Miller Lite account into review, Miller Brewing Co. was looking for a change in direction to revitalize the flagging beer brand. But in the end, it decided to stand by its incumbent agency and return to an idea that worked in the past.
'EIGHTIES' CAMPAIGN UPDATED
In its pitch to executives of Miller and parent Philip Morris Cos., Minneapolis-based Fallon presented the idea of updating the well-regarded campaign from the 1980s that starred ex-jocks and other colorful personalities. Those ads carried the tagline "Tastes great, less filling," which is not expected to return.
"They're going back," said one person close to the review. "No more Dick," the executive added, referring to Fallon's ill-fated, young-adult-focused Miller Lite campaign.
Fallon wouldn't comment on its pitch or victory, with a spokeswoman saying only, "We appreciate the vote of confidence from the brewery." Miller also declined comment on the new campaign, slated to break in March.
CORPORATE BRANDING PITCH, TOO
Separately, Miller also heard ideas for a corporate branding campaign from Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, which also pitched Lite, executives said. Miller declined comment on that.
The Lite celebrity-oriented campaign was created in the 1970s by Backer & Spielvogel, New York. Its "Tastes great, less filling" theme was an extension of the advertising from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, that launched the brand in 1973.
The new work will hark back to the earlier advertising, featuring personalities, including sports figures, and debates, said executives familiar with Fallon's pitch.
Fallon was far from alone in proposing Miller go back to the future to try to reignite sales of its light beer. At least two of the other agencies pitching the Lite account-Square One, Dallas, and Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.-included celebrity themes in their presentations.
Y&R Advertising, New York, also pitched the business.
Miller is going with a more conservative and traditional campaign in support of its struggling lead brand after two years of running Fallon's quirky and controversial "Miller Time" effort. Lite sales fell 2% last year, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.
"Strategically it's going to be more focused and more like an actual campaign," one executive familiar with the review said.
Miller tried to keep the evaluation low-key, never officially acknowledging the account was in review even as shops presented creative and strategic ideas. But Fallon's win surprised industry observers, many of whom believed the agency had no chance to keep the account. Even Miller executives earlier had acknowledged Fallon's unorthodox "Dick" campaign wasn't working.
Still, brewery CEO Jack McDonough and VP-Marketing Jack Rooney were said to believe in Fallon's abilities, and also accepted their share of the blame for providing direction on, and approving, the quirky ads.
In fact, the executive close to the pitch said the account was Fallon's to lose from the beginning: "My understanding was if Fallon broke even [in presentations], they were going to keep it."
The decision to stick with Fallon-which won the creative assignment from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, in 1996-surprised wholesalers, most of whom disliked the agency's previous campaign.
"I think [retaining Fallon] is going to scare a couple wholesalers," said one Southwestern distributor who asked not to be named.
But wholesalers did applaud the idea of Lite returning to its roots and the All-Star effort.
"I think that's a great idea," a Southeastern wholesaler said. "I could've told them that two years ago."