Miller Brewing Co. is looking to its 29-year-old "Miller Time" theme of guys bonding as well as sex appeal and funny vignettes to boost the fortunes of its flagship brand, Miller Lite.
After years of missteps with its Lite advertising, Miller the week of Feb. 28 unveiled its highly anticipated three-spot campaign at the company's annual distributors conference in Dallas. Distributors who panned the earlier, edgy "Dick" effort lauded the new Lite work. "They're getting back to where they were before--right in people's faces. It gets their attention," said one Southern wholesaler who saw the effort.
4TH CAMPAIGN IN 5 YEARS
This is Miller's fourth campaign in five years for Lite, but the first original campaign from Lite's new agency, Ogilvy & Mather, New York, which was given the $95 million account in late July. More spots are planned, although the specific number is uncertain. The campaign will run alongside at least one Ogilvy-created debate ad, a campaign initiated by since-fired agency Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis.
"Grab a Miller Lite. It's Miller Time" harkens back to 1971, when McCann-Erickson, New York, first launched the "Miller Time" theme for High Life. High Life also has resumed using the tag. Although Fallon resurrected the line for its quirky "Dick" ads in 1997, distributors said this effort is more on point.
"They're using it in a little softer tone, but you get the message with comedy and some sex appeal," the distributor said. "They try to talk about beer and put people in situations . . . they're in every day."
The Milwaukee brewer and Ogilvy said "Miller Time" is back because it represents the spirit of camaraderie and fun embodied by the brand.
"When we got down to the heart and soul of the brand, it's always been about the occasion and the time guys spend together--the banter and the real talk. Even the 'Tastes great, less filling' was like that,' " said Rick Boyko, Ogilvy chief creative officer. "Miller Lite has always been associated with that."
The Lite campaign will break during the National Collegiate Athletic Association college basketball tournament in mid-March. The campaign will encompass outdoor, print, radio and ethnic executions.
"It was a few weeks ago that we found the right voice for the brand in this campaign, and these three spots are a great start for what I believe will be a long-term campaign," Miller Senior VP-Marketing Robert Mikulay said.
He added that Lite spending would increase this year, but offered no further details. In the first 11 months of last year, Miller spent $75.5 million promoting Lite, down from $95.2 million for all of 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
FOLLOWS NEW MGD ADS
The Lite work comes two months after Miller Genuine Draft unveiled "Never miss a genuine opportunity," via J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago. JWT won the $60 million account at the same time Ogilvy was tapped.
The debate ads, which Ogilvy created while finalizing the new work, will continue on a limited basis.
"There may be some time in the future when we would have celebrities in the advertising or debates in the advertising," Mr. Boyko said.
One spot in the fresh creative shows hospital patients gathered and bonding around another patient, who receives baseball game broadcasts on his braces. A second shows bored men in an empty bar, rubbing their eyes in an effort to entertain themselves, so much so that they miss three scantily clad women who dash inside for refuge from the rain.
Another spot promotes responsible drinking, with the sober driver being asked to give a lift to three sexy bar patrons whose car has broken down.
Miller is trying to reverse a long-term sales slide for Lite, its No. 1 seller. Market share fell 17% from 1989 to 1999, although last year's sales were up a slight 2%, according to trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights. Miller is within 250,000 barrels of losing its No. 3 share position to Coors Light.
Mr. Mikulay, who assumed his job in April, told his first 3,700-distributor audience the brewer was on its way toward correcting problems--including a more integrated marketing campaign for its products as well as better advertising for Icehouse and Molson.
Miller also showed three new Miller Genuine Draft spots, two additional anti-drunken driving spots for Lite, new work for Foster's, interim ads for Icehouse and Molson, and new work for Miller High Life and Miller High Life Light. This is the first year Miller has put advertising behind Miller High Life Light.
The meeting was markedly different from last year's Nashville, Tenn., confab where distributors were so hostile to unfinished MGD spots that they never ran.
"There are a lot of good feelings overall about where the brewer is going. They are doing a lot of things right, but they know they have a lot of work to do. They were blunt and up front about that," said an attendee.
Copyright March 2000, Crain Communications Inc.