MillerCoors' answer to Justin Timberlake? Vince Vaughn. And Ken Jeong. And Chuck Liddell. And Questlove.
The brewer is rolling out a plethora of Miller Lite ads starring celebrities and a major movie tie-in as the brand seeks a comeback with its "Miller Time" campaign and new packaging. But Lite is taking a more measured approach with its celebs compared with other big beverage brands, which have tapped A-listers while giving them marketing titles, such as "creative director." For instance, Bud Light Platinum recently made Mr. Timberlake its "creative, cultural and music curator," while Diet Coke has made Taylor Swift a "program ambassador."
Lite is using celebs that might not be as well-known as Mr. Timberlake or Ms. Swift, but have what execs described as common-man cachet. And the brand is weaving in multiple celebs, rather than casting its lot with a single star. "Celebrities are challenging because the bigger the celebrity, the more it runs the risk of overshadowing what it is you are trying to do. It becomes an ad for the celebrity vs. an ad for your brand," Exec VP-Chief Marketing Officer Andy England told Ad Age, while previewing the brewer's 2013 marketing plans.
One Miller Lite ad envisions what it would be like to hang out with actor Ken Jeong, who will star in the upcoming "Hangover Part III" movie. In one bar scene in the ad, he self-mockingly says, "I'm that guy from that thing." Similar ads will show male drinkers hanging with mixed martial arts legend Chuck Liddell and music star Questlove. The spots are by Miller Lite lead agency Saatchi & Saatchi.
The biggest A-lister on Miller Lite's slate is Vince Vaughn, but he won't be making any original appearances in Lite ads. Rather, one commercial will show clips of Mr. Vaughn's upcoming movie "The Internship," which also stars Owen Wilson. The ad is part of a marketing tie-in the brand is making with the movie.
"Celebrity is not our strategy," said Con Williamson, chief creative officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. "Our strategy is solely focused on Miller Time." He added: "The celebrities that appear are guys that I think guys can actually picture hanging out with," joking that "I don't know that I could hang with Justin Timberlake. I'm far from cool enough."
Anheuser-Busch InBev's use of Mr. Timberlake for Bud Light Platinum is part of the brewer's strategy to use the higher-alcohol line extension to compete with spirits in upscale, nighttime drinking occasions. Paul Chibe, A-B InBev's VP for U.S. marketing, said he recognizes that there can be challenges with tying brands to one celebrity. But he said Mr. Timberlake is not in a "spokesperson role." While the pop star appeared in one recent ad, there is not a "mandate for him to be in the [ad] copy. He will be helping ... think about how we better connect with consumers."
Miller Lite's use of celebrities goes back decades, starting with its original "Great Taste, Less Filling" campaign that made its debut in 1974 and introduced the nation to light beer. The campaign -- one of the most heralded of all time -- featured ex-jocks dubbed the "Miller Lite All Stars" arguing over the beer's attributes. Mr. England noted that "it was a who's-who of American testosterone that really launched Miller Lite."
But in recent years, Lite has struggled, while MillerCoors' other light beer, Coors Light, has risen. Shipments of Lite, the fourth-largest U.S. beer brand, dropped by 3% in 2012, while No. 2 Coors Light jumped by 2.4%, according to preliminary figures from Beer Marketer's Insights.
In a comeback attempt, MillerCoors revived the "Miller Time" tagline last year, while moving the account from DraftFCB to Saatchi & Saatchi.
This year, Lite will get a ton of marketing support: 14 TV ads are planned. A significant chunk of the marketing will tout a new bottle launching in May, which will sell exclusively at on-premise accounts including bars and restaurants. The new design, which features broader shoulders and a narrow waist, is meant to revive Lite's on-premise business, which has been a weak spot.
The bottle, Mr. England said, is "big news for Miller Lite," calling it the "No. 1 thing" the brewer will do for the brand this year.
Here is a look at what else MillerCoors has planned this year:
Coors Light: Under WPP's Cavalry, the brand will continue its long-running "Rocky Mountain Cold Refreshment" positioning. Ads show mountain climbers retrieving the brew from the icy outdoors, then delivering the brew to bars, parties and the like.
Miller High Life: Windell Middlebrooks, who plays a beer-truck driver known for extolling common-sense values, will no longer appear in TV ads. Instead, the new campaign by Saatchi will plug High Life's role in "everyday celebrations," while putting greater emphasis on the beer's heritage as the "Champagne of Beers."
Keystone: The economy brand, which is handled by Saatchi, is ending its "Keith Stone" campaign, which had centered on the laid-back everyday-hero character. Keith "worked very well for our entry-level drinker," Mr. England said. But "the challenge with Keith is that he was frankly more polarizing with our ... 30-something regular guy." On that front, the brand has a new partnership with tournament fishing organization FLW. No TV ads are planned.
Redd's Apple Ale: The brewer will continue to dedicate significant marketing spending behind this new apple-flavored malt beverage that recently went national. A strawberry line extension is planned. The agency is Cavalry.
Third Shift: This new small-batch brew has started national advertising by Cavalry featuring an animated TV spot that spotlights brewers (similar to the approach used by small craft beers). One line in the ad declares that "when beer is your calling, you never clock out."