The campaign, by Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, Miami, debuted last spring with considerable buzz. The ads featured celebrities Miller and Crispin apparently thought personified manliness, such as actor Burt Reynolds, football star Jerome Bettis and wrestler Triple H, who would meet in a glass cube to settle questions about manly behavior, such as whether it's permissible to put fruit in beer. (It's not.)
The spots drew laughs, hundreds of thousands of entries to an online "Manlawpedia," and pop-culture references (a wholly-unrelated-to-beer Chicago Tribune story Sunday asked if it was a violation of "man law" for men to wear scarves), but Miller Lite's sales lost ground to its rivals. Sales fell by low-single digits last year, while rivals Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light and Coors Brewing Co.'s Coors Light saw sales climb in the mid- and low-single digits, respectively.
When asked, Miller executives said they believed "man laws" would gradually seep into the popular culture and eventually boost sales. But their patience appears to have run out.
"It's a great campaign, but the environment has changed a lot since we originally set out with it," Miller CEO Tom Long told Beer Business Daily in an interview published this morning. "We feel like it's time to start putting some more focus back on the reasons why Miller Lite is simply a better beer than other competitive light beers."
Asked to elaborate on Mr. Long's comments, a Miller spokesman said the campaign succeeded in generating "social currency, and that was exactly what we needed at the time." He said brewer is exploring opportunities to bring the campaign back at some point in the next 12 to 18 months.
Crispin on solid footing
The spokesman added that Crispin remains on solid footing as Miller Lite's agency, a sentiment supported by the brewer's recent decision to award the shop its Miller High Life creative account in addition to the Lite work.
New spots by Crispin, debuted during Sunday's NFL playoff games, set out to differentiate Miller Lite from its competitors by noting its spelling ("Lite" vs. the less distinctive but not misspelled "Light" used by A-B and Coors) as indicative of larger differences between Miller Lite and so-called GHT beers.
The new ads, expected to air until new work from Crispin replaces them in April, are a return to the more comparative style of advertising Miller employed during its 2003-2004 renaissance, when it gained market share from No. 1 brewer Anheuser-Busch by declaring superiority in taste, carbohydrate count and other areas. A-B blunted that momentum by slashing prices during 2005, and Miller has struggled to regain traction since.
A Crispin spokeswoman declined to comment.