PIONEER: MGD TAPS FANS

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Miller Brewing Co. became the first brewer on the World Wide Web because it wanted to give its Miller Genuine Draft brand some talk value.

"At the time, there were fewer than 1,000 corporate sites on the Web," said Ron Richards, then a Miller communications specialist and now in charge of the brewer's employee communications. "Genuine Draft was always an innovator, and we felt we would be reinforcing that image with an online site."

The original plan was to offer information about things to do and wear in various cities across the country. Miller soon found that visitors were interested in more-most notably the marketer's sports sponsorships and Web involvement.

While the MGD Tap Room still has information on activities in other cities, today it also has updates on Miller's car racing teams and other sports programs.

The Web page, created by Ketchum Communications and Intellicom, both Chicago, has attracted plenty of attention. Miller estimates the site has received 70 million hits since the program began (it has no way of quantifying that in terms of visits or users, however).

How well it helped is more difficult to judge.

Miller Genuine Draft has been losing market share steadily for several years. Mr. Richards said MGD's problems came from a lack of attention as the brewer looked to introduce other beers. There was no way to tell-unless someone filled out a survey-whether the people who visited the site were Miller drinkers or whether the site convinced them to drink more Miller beer.

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