Miller Shows Distributors Last Batch of Crispin's Ads

Enthusiastic Response for Former Agency's High Life Work

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LAS VEGAS (AdAge.com) -- Miller Brewing Co.'s search to replace Crispin, Porter & Bogusky as its primary ad agency is picking up, even as Crispin's swan-song ads were met with a largely enthusiastic response by Miller Lite and Miller High Life distributors gathered here yesterday for their annual convention.
Beginning next week, five agencies will meet with Miller executives at the brewer's Milwaukee headquarters and Chicago marketing office.
Beginning next week, five agencies will meet with Miller executives at the brewer's Milwaukee headquarters and Chicago marketing office.

The contenders
Miller has settled on five shops to participate in a review for those brands, including four in New York: Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Publicis' Saatchi & Saatchi; and independents Nitro and independent and Mother. WPP Group's Y&R, Chicago, rounds out the list, said Deb Boyda, the brewer's VP-content, who is leading the agency search. Ms. Boyda said the two brands will not necessarily go to the same agency.

Y&R and Mother are on the brewer's roster.

Beginning next week, the agencies will meet with Miller executives at the brewer's Milwaukee headquarters and Chicago marketing office; a decision is expected by mid-May.

The review follows a period of distributor discontent over Crispin's "Man Laws" campaign -- killed in January after less than a year on air -- which some wholesalers said prioritized building social currency at the expense of selling beer. (As the campaign was running, Miller Lite sales fell, while rivals Bud Light and Coors Light saw gains.)

Crispin resigned as agency of record for Lite and High Life in March, citing "fundamental differences over creative and strategy." Miller aired the final spots from the agency, which was never named, during the convention proceedings.

Rock-star reception for actor
The latest installment of Crispin's most successful work for Miller, it's "Take Back the High Life" campaign, drew a hugely enthusiastic response from the assembled distributors, including a rock-star reception for actor Windell Middlebrooks, who plays the burly beer-truck driver known for extracting the "common sense" High Life from overpriced bistros and gourmet groceries. Those spots improved long-declining sales trends for the brand in the Midwest markets where they aired, and will soon be airing nationally.

The latest commercials show the sort of low-key establishments the driver approves of for the High Life brand.

One series of new Crispin spots aimed at touting Miller Lite's accolades inserts golden trophies into settings generally associated with beer bottles, such as bottling lines and on store shelves. Another spot showed a statue resembling Rodin's "The Thinker" making its way to a bar and ordering a Miller Lite, prompting the tagline "If you think about it, the choice is clear."

Low-tech homemade ads
But Miller also debuted the latest batch of its homemade spots, low-tech slides making basic comparisons to other beer and drink options based on taste and carbohydrate counts. The commercials were a marked departure from the high-concept approach Crispin took with "Man Laws," something Miller executives took pains to point out to their wholesalers.

"These are straightforward ads that aren't meant ... to put trophies on the shelves of our advertising agencies," said Erv Frederick, VP-brand strategy for Miller Lite. "They're meant to do one thing: Sell beer."

That comment earned Mr. Frederick an ovation.
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