Miller sounds last call for its edgy beer ads

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The clock is running out on Miller Brewing Co.'s edgy "Miller Time" campaigns for Lite and Genuine Draft.

Conceding that the quirky efforts have failed to boost sales of the two key brands, Miller VP-Marketing Jack Rooney last week told a wholesaler meeting the advertising will be substantially overhauled and could be scrapped entirely and replaced with new work.

ADMITTING TO FAILURE

"They admitted that the Lite ad campaign was a failure and they're going to change it; MGD, too," said one Southeastern distributor who attended the Milwaukee meeting.

Miller also unveiled a new agreement requiring wholesalers to devote marketing resources to Miller brands commensurate with their volume.

While the current twentysomething-targeted ad campaigns have sought to give the Miller brands a hip image, new work would focus on a broader target and would be more aimed at increasing sales, wholesalers said.

Mr. Rooney didn't say whether the overhaul would affect agency relationships, and Miller declined comment on specifics of the meeting.

COMMITTED TO SHOPS

Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, handles Lite, while Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., handles Genuine Draft. Both agencies won the accounts in late 1996.

A Miller spokeswoman said the brewer is committed to its agencies. The shops referred calls to Miller.

At Fallon, new Creative Director David Lubars is expected to become more involved with Lite.

LIKE A ROWING TEAM

During his speech, Mr. Rooney likened selling beer to a rowing regatta, in that everyone must pull their weight to win. Advertising--the strongest rower, he said--has failed to do that.

"Our goal is to put the sharpest selling propositions behind our two most important brands," Mr. Rooney was quoted as saying in the meeting. The audience applauded when Mr. Rooney said the ads would be changed.

Miller's aim is to crank out new work before the end of the football season, wholesalers said. Otherwise, new work will hit in February or March.

The brewer also is planning to run some Texas-specific ads for Lite, a wholesaler said. According to Beer Marketer's Insights, Lite this year has been ousted by Bud Light as the state's top-selling brand.

Miller, a unit of Philip Morris Cos., launched the quirky "Dick"-created Lite campaign and a gritty b&w effort for Genuine Draft under the "Miller Time" umbrella almost two years ago. Miller was then coming off the failed launch of the new Miller Beer and trying to freshen the image of its existing beers among young adults.

SALES DECLINES

Miller maintains the narrowly focused ads have succeeded in increasing the brands' appeal to target consumers. But despite spending hundreds of millions on advertising and promotions for the two brews, Lite suffered a 2.6% sales volume decline and Genuine Draft experienced a slight drop during the third quarter compared with the same period last year, according to Philip Morris. Overall domestic sales for all Miller brands slipped 4.2%.

Supermarket sales figures, which represent about 20% of beer sales, reflect the trend. According to Information Resources Inc., Lite sales volume was down 1.1% to 29.8 million cases during the 52 weeks ended Oct. 4. Genuine Draft sales were down 2.1% to 13.3 million cases.

Meanwhile, No. 1 brewer Anheuser-Busch reported a 3.3% increase in domestic beer sales volume in the third quarter. Bud Light is the fastest-growing major domestic beer, posting a 12.1% sales increase to 45.2 million cases during the 52 weeks ended Oct. 4.

While Miller outspent A-B in advertising last year, the roles have reversed this year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. A-B spent $187.2 million on measured media during the first six months of 1998; Miller spent $129.5 million.

Copyright November 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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