MILLER BARKS UP NEW TREE WITH RED DOG

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The dog may be the same but the beer will have a different bite as the U.S.' No. 2 brewer taps into a brand marketed in Canada by Molson Breweries.

Miller Brewing Co. will log several firsts when it launches Red Dog beer in the Southeastern U.S. next month as the second brand from "Plank Road Brewery."

The Milwaukee brewer will use an ad campaign from Molson agency BBDO Canada, Toronto, only slightly altered from the unique, humorous Canadian advertising the agency developed for Molson's version of Red Dog. In its first work ever for Miller, BBDO will produce Miller's version of the spots.

But Miller will part company with Molson in brewing Red Dog as a lighter, though full-calorie, version of its Canadian counterpart.

The Canadian Red Dog campaign began in May with teaser outdoor boards featuring a drawing of a bulldog and nothing else; the ads caused considerable local speculation that the drawing represented the name of a new sports team.

Several weeks later, a "You are your own dog" TV campaignstarted, featuring a real red bulldog swaggering through various settings that celebrate gusto, personality and independence. Gravelly voiced actor Tommy Lee Jones did the voice-overs.

(Miller declined to discuss details of the U.S. ads, apparently pending contract negotiations.)

In Canada, Molson used the campaign to launch an alt beer, a combination of an ale and lager. Miller contended that particular formulation is too heavy for U.S. tastes. But the U.S. Red Dog will have a somewhat fuller, fruitier taste than other Miller products.

"We wanted something more mainstream, a lager beer that was bold yet smooth and easy to drink," said Rich Lalley, Miller's director of new-product development.

"The full-calorie segment continues to be the leading segment of the industry. It is still 60%," Mr. Lalley said. "There are still an awful lot of drinkers out there, and we wouldn't be upset if we were able to take advantage of the decline [Anheuser-Busch's] Budweiser is having these days."

Molson's Red Dog may even be too heavy for Canadian tastes. As Molson continues to roll out Red Dog to new areas, sales have slipped in its initial rollout sites.

In another first for Miller, the U.S. brewer controlling Molson USA's marketing thought enough of the Red Dog concept and ad campaign to produce a U.S. version of the beer rather than let Molson USA import the Canadian product. Red Dog will join Icehouse in what's becoming a second Miller brand line-Plank Road Brewery.

Miller's use of any dog in advertising has its ironies. Miller Chairman Jack MacDonough was VP-brand management at A-B when Chicago agency DDB Needham Worldwide's "party animal" dog, Spuds MacKenzie, helped propel Bud Light from an also-ran to a real player challenging Miller Lite.

Mr. MacDonough was still at A-B when that company pulled Spuds advertising after criticism that the dog was glorifying alcohol consumption with children.

"[Red Dog] is an independent-minded drinker. He embodies an attitude," said Scott Epstein, a Miller public relations manager. "He is not Spuds. He is very different."

Miller said the advertising is essential and it will skip its recent "momentum testing." In momentum testing, Miller puts products in markets to judge response, and advertises only if the product sells. Miller is expected to advertise heavily in Red Dog markets, at a national equivalent of $15 million to $20 million.

Miller seems to be trying to avoid problems of Molson's Canadian experience while using some of Molson's ideas. There, alt beer was billed as a return to basics after heavy ice beer promotion.

"Beer drinkers got a little bit skeptical of some of the claims that were made last summer on the ice-brewing technology and the science behind that," said Dave Perkins, Molson's senior VP-marketing.

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