STROH TRIES TO HALT DECLINES WITH NEW ADS: OLD MILWAUKEE BRAND A BRIGHT SPOT AS BREWER KEEPS MARKETING PROMISE

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Stroh Brewery Co. has made good on its vow to put more marketing muscle behind its brands, a promise made just more than a year ago when Stroh acquired G. Heileman Brewing Co.

But that increased activity hasn't stopped the sales skid for Stroh brands, and the marketer will ratchet up support again to stop the slide.

'MORE AGGRESSIVE'

"Stroh is now a more aggressive brand builder thanks to the acquisition," said Joe Martino, senior marketing executive for the brewer. "We're not satisfied with sales declines, and we realize it's going to take time to turn the brands around."

Since it acquired Heileman, Stroh has boosted marketing budgets, rejuvenated the Old Milwaukee brand with network TV advertising, and supported a slew of regional and subpremium brews.

But Stroh brands' share of supermarket volume through May 25 fell to 9.4% from 10.7% in the year-earlier period, before the merger closed, according to PaineWebber. Brands such as Schlitz have fallen by double digits, according to industry newsletter Beer Marketer's Insights.

"We're focusing our efforts on building brand equity as opposed to our former reliance on price," Mr. Martino said.

30% MORE ON MARKETING

Stroh is spending 30% more on marketing in 1997 than the two brewers did in 1996. Mr. Martino wouldn't disclose the marketing budget, but ad spending has shown an increase.

In the first three months of 1997, Stroh spent $1.8 million on its brands, according to Competitive Media Reporting. By comparison, the two brewers combined spent $469,000 in the first quarter of 1996 and $589,400 in 1995. Stroh and Heileman spent a combined $11.2 million on advertising for all of 1996 and $10.6 million in 1995.

Most of the new spending has been behind Old Milwaukee, with a network TV push that started in 1996-the brand's first network schedule in eight years. Old Milwaukee sales have been a bright spot, climbing 12.6% through June 23, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

The spot was created by Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, but that shop was dropped in May when Stroh consolidated its account at W.B. Doner & Co., Southfield, Mich. Doner already has created the first TV spots in five years for

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