After a record-setting launch for the beer whose advertising and graphics Miller borrowed from Canadian partner Molson Breweries and its agency BBDO Toronto, Miller is hoping to set further records for a new brand.
"We've had some people bark, ask for one of those `cold puppies,' or for `a dog,"' said Rich Lalley, Miller's new product manager until his recent promotion to group director of beers that Miller markets under its own name. (Red Dog is marketed as a brand of the Plank Road Brewery.)
Beer packaging graphics of a dog, and TV ads featuring an anti-establishment bulldog and the voice of actor Tommy Lee Jones have fueled easy placements in supermarkets and sales beyond Miller's expectations.
Red Dog's initial success has exceeded even Miller's expectations, to become the brewer's fastest-selling new beer ever. Red Dog first went on sale in several markets in October and became national in late November.
Nielsen Marketing Research figures for the 13 weeks ended Feb. 18 show Miller's case sales up 3.7% from a year ago with Red Dog taking a 1.1% market share and the share rising to 1.4% in the last four weeks of the period.
Distributors and bar managers say the dog on the label and the advertising captured retail and consumer interest.
"People are coming back for it," said Bert Gilgen, manager of Peter's Wild Life in Houston, a large bar that attracts a youthful crowd. "It's not like [Coors Brewing Co.'s] Zima. It will be around for a while."
Mr. Gilgen said Miller's only problem with the brew is that some of the sales are to former drinkers of Miller's ice beer products.
Vernon Plack, general sales manager of Bond Distributing Co. in Baltimore, said Red Dog, "may be one of the most successful new [beer] products" ever.
"This thing seemed to jump right out of the box and keep going," he said, and he credits the imagery. "America loves animals. Red Dog attracted some people and it is easier to get their attention."
Red Dog's success reminds many beer distributors of mascot Spuds MacKenzie's success in the mid '80s in helping Anheuser-Busch reposition its Bud Light, a brand that now has overtaken Miller Lite as the nation's No. 2 beer. A-B pulled Spuds in 1989 amid accusations the canine mascot was an attempt to appeal to children, charges the brewer strongly denied. Miller Chairman Jack MacDonough was VP-brand management at Anheuser-Busch at the height of Spuds' success.
A-B launched its own animal brand, Red Wolf, last year in part to blunt Red Dog's effect. A-B insiders indicate that brand, originally planned as more of a niche product, could get increased advertising to counter Miller's brew. Glennon Advertising, St. Louis, handles Red Wolf.