Miller Puts the Gruff Back Into High Life Beer

Brewer Jettisons Upscale Approach in First Ad Work From New Agency

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Ever wonder what Miller Brewing Co. executives were thinking when they tried to position Miller High Life as a more upscale, more feminine beer? Apparently, they're now asking themselves the same question.
It appears that 'real men' of the blue-collar persuasion will once again be the target of Miller High Life's marketing efforts.
It appears that 'real men' of the blue-collar persuasion will once again be the target of Miller High Life's marketing efforts.

Ill-conceived
In the first work on the brand from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, Miller High Life is thumbing its nose at its ill-conceived attempt to metrosexualize the beer and trying to reclaim the blue-collar positioning it owned with the much-celebrated, gruff-talking High Life Man it ditched for a classier approach starring the Girl in the Moon label icon.

Still-in-development spots shown to the brewer's distributors at regional meetings last week seem to repudiate the disowned direction, showing Miller delivery drivers forcibly removing High Life from trendy, upscale restaurants and nightclubs. The scenes strike a creative chord not seen since Miller scrapped Wieden & Kennedy's 1950s-era manly man for the fussier, feminine push. Sales cratered with the Girl in the Moon ads and lessons apparently were learned.

"I don't know what the hell they were thinking," said one Southern distributor who was happy to see the new creative effort.

Brand positioning
Though the new ads don't feature the High Life Man -- who revived the brand's sales in the mid-'90s but couldn't sustain that momentum as domestic brews slumped earlier this decade -- the brand's positioning appears once again to be firmly in his presumably work-worn hands.

Miller spent about $17 million on measured media for High Life in 2005.

Crispin's higher-profile work for flagship brand Miller Lite is garnering far more scrutiny these days, as weak sales trends prompt questions about whether the agency's "Men of the Square Table" campaign is as good at selling beer as it is at generating buzz.

While the brewer is sticking with the campaign -- though it will talk more about the beer's attributes going forward -- it is clearly aware that early returns aren't good. According to Miller's corporate blog, CEO Tom Long listed the brewery's top three priorities as "Miller Lite, Miller Lite and Miller Lite," and vowed to increase media spending on the brand.

'Miller went soft'
"We know Miller Lite went soft over the summer," Mr. Long was quoted as saying to distributors. "And we're more dissatisfied with the volume results than you are because we know in our guts that Miller Lite is a true flagship brand, and we believe it should grow every year, every month, every week and every single day."

Miller Genuine Draft, another struggling Miller brand, also saw new work previewed this week. Miller split with the Martin Agency last month after its "Beer Grown Up" push failed to slow long-declining sales. Snippets of new work from WPP Group's Y&R, Chicago, showed Miller isn't abandoning its "mainstream sophistication" positioning but is taking a different tack. Animated ads sport the tagline "Experience is Golden" and, according to Beer Business Daily, appeared to mimic vodka ads by harping on the brew's cold-filtered origins.

The spots are still in development, a Miller spokesman said, and may not be the same when they begin airing in November.

Ramping up imports
Miller also told distributors it intends to ramp up imports of four brands from parent SAB Miller: Peruvian brews Cristal and Cusquena, Colombian beer Aguila, and Poland's Tyskie. The move is an apparent response to the growth of imports, and is something Miller distributors in states with large Latino immigrant populations, such as Florida, Texas and Arizona, have wanted for years.

Miller also announced plans for a seasonal chocolate lager that will be sold in six major Midwestern markets during the fourth quarter.
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