Garfield's AdReview

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Why should you not merely read this column religiously, but actually worship it? Because, unlike the goofs and goofettes in the creative department-who loathe the client, the logo and most likely themselves for not being movie directors or novelists or whatever-the AdReview staff actually appreciates and understands advertising.

That's why we hammered Miller Lite for 10 years, as it went through a series of strategically suspect, too-too clever campaigns each more horrific than the last. The beleaguered advertiser imagined we had a vendetta, but, no, all we had was a TV, which displayed the obvious. And the marketplace corroborated our dim view: Miller's share and volume slid year after year.

Remember Lite's fictional creative guru, Dick? Yeah, well, life imitates art.

Which, once again, we always understood-just as we immediately understood last September that Lite, at long last, was onto something. The low-carbs campaign, we said, was "... far and away the best Lite advertising since the ex-jocks disappeared from the airwaves."

Yep, and since then Miller Lite has been growing for the first time since approximately the Battle of Hastings, and archrival Bud Light's explosive growth has dramatically slowed. The change in fortunes is so dramatic, in fact, that Anheuser-Busch is countering with a direct answer to Miller. Risky. Risky.

"All light beers are low in carbs," the ads declare in print, outdoor and broadcast. "Choose on taste."

Let's start with problem No. 1: Choose on taste? Fine. Amstel, please.

Secondly, not long ago, A-B was scoffing at Lite's carbs claim, noting that A-B invented that pre-emptive positioning for Michelob Ultra. Well, not only did that pre-emption turn out to be decidedly unpre-emptive, this huge counter-assault of Miller suddenly undercuts Mich Ultra's entire raison d'etre.

Thirdly, isn't it more or less axiomatic that market leaders never acknowledge the competition? Yes, because doing so not only betrays vulnerability, it amounts to free advertising for the challenger.

So there are three compelling reasons for dumping the "Choose on taste" campaign today, no later than midafternoon.

There are, however, two arguments for staying the course. One is another axiom, borrowed from politics: Any charge not answered in 24 hours becomes a fact. Lite has done so well challenging Bud Light on carbs, the beer electorate is edging away from the incumbent. Moreover, the Bud Light ads themselves-from Cannonball, St. Louis, and Downtown Partners DDB, Toronto-are pretty appealing.

The tabletop photography is top drawer, making Bud's beer-flavored water look irresistible. One of the new print executions comparing the King of Beers to "the Queen of Carbs" is ruthless, but also pretty ingenious in sissifying the competition. And the funny "Bud Light Institute" TV spots, by boasting about Bud Light's own low level of carbohydrates, somewhat dilutes the challenger's claim.

These ads, combined with A-B's distribution muscle, will probably impede Lite's momentum, and maybe are therefore worthwhile. The fact remains, however, that their very existence reminds every consumer that the status quo has changed.

Lite is back in the race-thanks to a salient selling idea, not the imagination of some "creative" Dick.

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