Miller looks to broaden Lite's appeal

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Miller Brewing Co. is putting yet another spin on "Miller time," mixing in some new creative and backing the brand with its largest budget in four years.

Philip Morris Cos.' brewery will use a series of six 15-second spots to broaden the "Grab a Miller Lite. It's Miller Time" campaign with comedic variations on the theme. In "Inappropriate Miller Time," for example, a wedding guest hits on a disbelieving bride. In "Clueless Miller Time," a bar patron tells two buddies his female roommates want him to engage in a menage a trois-but that he doesn't speak Spanish.

Work, Richmond, Va., an independent shop that consults with Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide as part of the Syndicate (a loose affiliation of agencies that work with Ogilvy accounts), came up with the idea behind the spots. But the two agencies collaborated to produce the ads, according to Rick Roth, client services director at Ogilvy. The spots are targeted to a younger age group than Ogilvy's existing "Grab a Miller Lite" campaign begun in March of last year, which continues to run. This is the second time Ogilvy has called on the Syndicate for Lite-it earlier worked with Hunt Adkins, Minneapolis (AA, Oct. 2, 2000).

The 15-second executions mark Ogilvy's latest go-round on the brand. Its first try was an iteration of the long-running debate campaign that had initially been revived by predecessor Fallon, Minneapolis, and Hispanic shop Square One, Dallas. Then, last March, Ogilvy borrowed the former tagline from Miller High Life and rolled out "Grab a Miller Lite. It's Miller Time." The first ads, which included hospitalized men listening to a game via another patient's mouth full of metal, were panned and followed by a better-received second batch of creative with the same theme.

The latest effort will run primarily on late-night TV, the first time the brewer has targeted that audience since 1997. The vignettes target 21- to 25-year-old men and women, compared with 21- to 34-year-old men for the general Lite campaign, and are scheduled to run at least through summer.

Mr. Roth said the goal was to widen Miller's presence beyond sports, where the existing 30-second spots will continue to run. "The brand has been far too focused on a certain few areas of media" such as football, Mr. Roth said. "If we're going to be the beer of the mainstream and stand for owning an understanding of guys, we need to be in more than a few kinds of media."

The country's No. 2 brewer declined to say how much it would spend on its flagship brand this year, but it's estimated Miller will get upward of $116 million in ad spending-the largest sum for Lite in four years. The brand received $82.6 million in measured media spending in 1999, with more than $46.3 million spent in the first half of last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Lite, which launched the low-calorie beer category in 1975, has recovered from its all-time volume low of 15.7 million barrels in 1994, but sales have risen only about 2% from 1995 through last year, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. During that time, the domestic light category spiked 20%, fueled by Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light and Coors Brewing Co.'s Coors Light. DDB Worldwide, Chicago, is the primary agency for Bud Light, while FCB Worldwide, Chicago, handles Coors Light.

"It's very difficult to turn a big dominant brand around from down to up," said Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer's Insights, "and Miller has done that ... but it's not grown with the category over the last five years." Sales figures for 2000 are not yet available, but Mr. Shepard predicts Lite's volume will be flat at the 16.25 million barrels sold in 1999.

Tony Besasie, senior brand manager on Lite, said the spots "talk to 21- to 24-year-olds in their language."

"Miller Time has always been part of the vernacular," he said. "We hope to make it more a part of the vernacular."

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