Working with Chicago-based Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom Media Services, Miller saturation bombed the TV networks and cable with a dizzying array of spots and downplayed local media such as radio and outdoor.
The brewer entered an alliance with Fox TV and pushed into venues it rarely entered before, including national print and prime-time network and cable TV.
"We tore the whole [plan] apart and built it from the ground up," says Steve Buerger, VP-media services at Miller.
Figures from Competitive Media Reporting reveal the scale of the Miller effort. Total 1997 spending for Lite shot up 48.9% to $149 million. This support far outpaced that for any other beer on the market. The closest was Budweiser from Anheuser-Busch, with $127.6 million.
Miller invested so much because it had a lot to do. In 1996, the brewer spent more than $50 million trying to launch Miller Beer, a spectacular failure that diverted resources from other brands. Apart from Lite, which eked out a 0.5% gain, sales of all Miller's major beer brands were down.
So Miller took a deep breath and overhauled its marketing strategy. It fired agencies, focused on Lite and Genuine Draft and funneled more money into advertising, including savings from staff reductions.
`MILLER TIME' HATCHED
The centerpiece of the strategy was Miller's effort to position Lite as the beer of choice for young adults aged 21 to 28, a crucial beer demographic that is growing larger. The ironic and archly comic "Miller Time" campaign from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, was to be the agent for this transformation.
Miller knew the media effort needed to be broader than a typical campaign to redefine the brand.
Its partner in media was Starcom. Miller previously had worked with a variety of media buyers, including Bates USA and Zenith Media Services, both New York; it had been unhappy with their performance. The bad feeling lingered even after the firing: Miller recently filed a $6.9 million federal lawsuit against the two shops, claiming they failed to deliver ratings targets (AA, June 22).
Miller consolidated media with Starcom because it was impressed with its media prowess and proprietary planning and buying systems. It was less inspired by Burnett's creative: Miller fired the agency from Lite creative in moving it to Fallon.
Miller decided a heavy investment in national TV was the best way to redefine the brand, particularly by going into prime-time programming, an arena it had previously avoided due to higher prices.
Though the Lite target audience didn't watch a great deal of TV, prime-time TV still delivered the greatest reach in the fastest time. Ads airing during NBC's prime-time put the brand in people's minds.
Miller also increased the presence of Lite on cable.
"Cable is extremely efficient," Mr. Buerger says. "We increased our weight on cable . . . because they continue to draw a large audience."
Network TV spending jumped 64.2% to $110.4 million during 1997, according to CMR. Cable spending leaped 78.0% to $12.4 million.
During the year, Miller also crafted a four-year, $300 million partnership with Fox. The arrangement gave Miller category exclusivity during Major League Baseball games on the network as well as branded
vignettes running during prime-time programming and during the two-minute warning on football broadcasts.
TRADITIONAL MEDIA SCALED BACK
Meanwhile, Miller scaled back more traditional media considered insufficient to boost the new image. Outdoor spending slid 76.0% to $1.1 million; spot TV tumbled 14.1% to $15.3 million; and spot radio fizzled 65.0% to $157,500.
Miller also placed ads in hip young male magazines like Maxim, Bikini and POV.
"We went into vertical publications instead of just Sports Illustrated," says Mike Johnson, brand manager-Lite.
Miller's magazine spending during 1997 soared 14-fold to $7.4 million, according to CMR.
This year, Miller plans to continue running a large number of Lite ads in prominent media. Miller has enhanced its print effort by signing domestic beer exclusivity deals with several magazines, including Maxim.
Now that the campaign has been established, Miller cut first quarter spending 29.6% to 27.2 million, according to CMR. That's still $5 million more than than the brand receivd in 1996.
Miller went more aggressively into last year's upfront market (for the '98 fall season) than before. This proved to be difficult, given last year's high upfront prices.
"The biggest challenge . . . was media inflation; it truly was a seller's market," Mr. Buerger says.
But Miller did not have Starcom use optimizers to assist in buying, citing the tool's relative novelty. "We didn't have confidence in it back then," says Mr. Buerger.
Miller now uses the software.
Miller tried but failed to get on the 1999 Super Bowl, a franchise long held exclusively by Anheuser-Busch. Miller did make the cost dear for its rival: $20 million for 10 spots.
PRICE PROMOTIONS VS. ADS
While the Miller Lite campaign has created publicity and controversy, it remains to be seen whether it's selling more beer.
The brand, which suffered declines in the early 1990s, grew 1.9% to 16.2 million barrels in 1997, according to Impact. But that growth was as much the fruit of heavy price promoting as advertising.
Moreover, Lite's performance paled compared to that of Bud Light, which saw sales grow 10.6% to 22.9 million cases, according to Impact. Bud Light got $55.7 million in ad support, according to CMR.
Miller critics snipe that the "Miller Time" campaign is a bust and sales increases are illusory, Miller claims time will prove it right.
"We're beginning to change the personality of the brand," says Mr. Johnson.