Miller Lite puts Square One to work

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Miller Brewing Co. will introduce new so-called "debate" spots for its key Miller Lite brand. But in a surprising twist, much of the work will come from Square One, Dallas, rather than Lite shop Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York.

Ogilvy won the account in July but has yet to produce a campaign. So Miller ordered up Square One ads that would continue on the theme used in ads from previous agency Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, with beer drinkers debating the merits of Lite. Ogilvy then shifted into high gear, according to those familiar with the situation.

Ogilvy succeeded Fallon on Lite at the same time J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago, inherited the $60 million Miller Genuine Draft account from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. JWT unveiled its first MGD campaign last week.

A Miller spokeswoman said Square One created Hispanic ads that could be translated for the general market. Square One already handles general market ads for Icehouse and Molson. Miller Senior VP-Marketing Bob Mikulay acknowledged Ogilvy "has been working on a parallel path" to the previous campaign.

Since last year's agency change, Miller executives said they were in no hurry for new work and would wait for the agencies to "get it right." They even warned distributors not to expect to see work at their annual meeting in Dallas in early March.

But executives familiar with both brands said Miller was eager for a campaign to show distributors.

"They wanted something for this distributors meeting in March, so they go to their second agency, Square One, and say, `Give us more spots on the Fallon campaign,' " one production executive said. That motivated Ogilvy to pick up the pace, so it, too, would have work to show at the sales meeting, another executive said.

Square One did not return phone calls by press time. But two of the "debate" spots currently on the air are from Square One, and one is from Fallon. Ogilvy and Fallon declined comment, and referred calls to Miller.

JWT's first work for MGD debuted Jan. 22 during an NBA broadcast on NBC, with a new tag, "Never miss a genuine opportunity."


Mr. Mikulay said Miller will increase ad spending behind MGD and Lite-but not enough to make up for a drop in the past year.Miller spent about $57 million in the first nine months of 1999 supporting Lite, compared with $77 million for the same period in 1998, a 26% drop, according to Competitive Media Reporting. MGD and MGD Light received $18 million in the first nine months of 1999, a 66% drop over the pervious year.

As part of the MGD campaign, Miller plans to roll out a Spanish-language beer spot next month created by Latin Works, Austin, Texas. The MGD campaign will be extended to radio and outdoor by mid-February.

"I think what we have got there is not an interim piece of communication but something that will stand the test of time and function as long-term positioning for Miller Genuine Draft," Mr. Mikulay said. "We found the voice of the brand."

Ogilvy's struggle mirrors that of its client. The beer that gave life to reduced-calorie brews has fallen from No. 2 to the No. 3 spot in volume. Lite sales have risen since summer.

Mr. Mikulay said he was not certain why the brand exceeded company forecasts but suggested the upswing could be due to a recent repackaging, promotions, renewed distributor enthusiasm and the ad campaign that started with Fallon.

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