By Published on .

Most Popular
Without ever seeing so much as one storyboard of new ideas, Miller Brewing Co. handed over $155 million in advertising last week to friends of the family.

Both of the new agencies -- J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago, which picked up the $60 million Miller Genuine Draft account, and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, which got the $95 million Miller Lite beer work -- are longtime shops of Kraft Foods. Kraft and Miller are divisions of Philip Morris Cos.; O&M and JWT are owned by WPP Group, London.

Yet neither family empire has the time to toast the corporate unions -- Miller needs help fast.

Despite spending millions more on advertising than industry leader Anheuser-Busch and discount-pricing its beer, Miller lags both Budweiser and Bud Light. And its trend is downward: Second-quarter figures show sales of Miller's core brands fell 2.2%, while A-B posted a 4% rise as the overall market grew 3%.


A Miller revival could prove to be tough, especially in the face of staunch competition not only from A-B but from imported beers as well.

Industry insiders agree Miller's next challenge is to identify which brand will be its flagship, then find its target audience and reach them with simple messages. Miller lost that in Lite's quirky "Dick" campaign, which failed to appeal to young beer drinkers.

"More than at any other time, they are at a crossroads," said a Miller distributor in the Southwest. "Now they've got to make the right decision."

Parent Philip Morris began to clean house at the brewer in April, when it replaced its top Miller executives with John Bowlin, the new president-CEO, and Bob Mikulay, senior VP-marketing. Then, just three weeks ago, they reshuffled the brewer's sales and marketing division and appointed new group brand directors.


In the latest move, Miller dismissed Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, on Lite and Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., on MGD. Each shop had held its Miller business for 2 1/2 years. This marks the third time in three years Miller has shifted agencies.

Wieden, however, retains the $15 million Miller High Life account.

Miller executives wouldn't discuss whether they will boost ad spending; the company cut back support for its 60 brands by almost 20% during the years Fallon and Wieden worked on the brews.


The move to O&M had been expected (AA, June 28), and a Miller spokeswoman acknowledged that Miller awarded the accounts to JWT and O&M without any creative review because of the shops' strong relationships with Kraft.

Mr. Bowlin worked with O&M and JWT in his previous job as president of Kraft International, and Mr. Mikulay worked with O&M on new products while at PM USA.

O&M handles Kraft's Post cereals, Maxwell House coffee and Kool-Aid. JWT handles Miracle Whip, various cheese accounts and the marketer's "corporate equity" effort.

Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom USA, Chicago, will continue to handle media buying for Miller.


JWT Creative Director Dennis Ryan is being credited with helping attract the MGD business. He spent 13 years at DDB Worldwide, Chicago, as group creative director on Anheuser-Busch.

Mr. Ryan would not comment on rumors that Bob Merlotti, who followed him from DDB, would head the Miller business. While at DDB, Mr. Merlotti worked on Bud Light, Budweiser, Bud Ice and Bud Dry.

Also while at DDB, he came up with the "Did somebody say McDonald's?" line.

The Miller spokeswoman said Fallon's newest Lite ads, which bring back the brand's classic "sports debate" format, should hit the air by the end of summer, and Wieden's "Put a keg in your hand" campaign will continue for the time being.

She declined to say when work from the new agencies would appear.

Chris Jones, New York-based CEO of J. Walter Thompson Co. said: "To have the opportunity to help build such a great brand -- and increase the market share -- is very exciting . . . [but] we'll save any crowing we might do for when the first advertising comes out and it's a hit."


In the July brand-manager shuffle, Rich Lalley was named global brand director for Lite and new products, coming from allied brands. He had worked with Lite before taking over the non-Miller branded products. He succeeded Mike Johnson, now heading up Miller High Life, Red Dog, Milwaukee's Best, Sharp's and other acquired brands.

Chad Vincent now is responsible for Miller Genuine Draft, Molson, Foster's and Icehouse. He had been Miller's VP-managing director for Asia.

Messrs. Vincent and Johnson succeeded Bruce Winterton, who left the company and

In this article: