Miller Lite Posts Worst Quarter in More Than a Decade

Brand's 7.5% Drop in Shipments Ups Pressure on Agency BBH

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Miller Lite's shipments to retailers declined a startling 7.5% in the fourth quarter, driving its parent MillerCoors' results into negative territory.

MillerCoors' flagship brand has struggled in recent years, generally posting incremental losses or tiny gains. Shipments were relatively flat during the first half of 2008, but they fell 3.6% in the third quarter, and that deficit doubled in the fourth quarter, a sign that the brand is in freefall.

The quarter is believed to be Miller Lite's worst since at least the early 1990s, and it "almost certainly" is the worst quarterly drop of shipments by a premium-light-beer brand in this decade, said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights.

Quarterly losses of that magnitude have more typically been associated with full-calorie brews such as Miller Genuine Draft and Budweiser, largely because light beers have been stealing their drinkers.

Embattled agency
The moribund quarter figures to ratchet up the pressure on Miller Lite's embattled agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, by several orders of magnitude.

Since Bartle Bogle took over the brand from Crispin Porter & Bogusky in 2007, its efforts -- which boasted about taste, calories and carbs while often tweaking Anheuser-Busch's Clydesdale and Dalmatian icons -- haven't hit the mark. Miller Lite's sales have been outpaced by rival Bud Light and rival-turned-sibling Coors Light.

Bartle Bogle lost a pitch in November for a series of holiday-themed spots for Miller Lite to DraftFCB, Coors Light's agency. MillerCoors said the holiday push was largely a response to distributors unhappy with the brand's performance and marketing platform.

Bartle Bogle remains Miller Lite's agency of record and is said to be working on a new campaign that will be unveiled at MillerCoors' March wholesaler meeting.

Companywide slowdown
Total MillerCoors shipments declined 2.3% in the quarter. The previously red-hot Coors Light posted only a 1% gain in the quarter, a significant slowdown. An earnings announcement also cited gains by MGD 64 and Blue Moon.

Miller Lite is MillerCoors' largest brand -- for now, at least. It shipped 18.4 million barrels in 2007, compared with Coors Light's 17.3 million. Together the two brands account for 56% of MillerCoors' volume.

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