The changes come shortly after the July promotion of Miller's chief marketing officer, Coca-Cola alum Tom Long, to CEO, and the naming of another Coke vet, Randy Ransom, to Mr. Long's former CMO post.
The moves figure to delight the brewer's distributor network, which has been increasingly critical of both efforts in recent months as both brands lose market share to competitors. The struggles of both brands have cooled a once-red-hot turnaround story at Miller, which saw sales of flagship Miller Lite surge in 2003 and 2004 on the strength of ads comparing it with No. 1 light beer and chief rival Bud Light on topics such as carbohydrate content and taste.
more buzz than sales
Those gains cooled last year amid aggressive price cuts by Bud Light parent Anheuser-Busch and a shift by Miller away from comparative advertising. Miller Lite replaced ads from Y&R, Chicago, harping on its taste with a new campaign from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, that features masculine celebrity icons such as Burt Reynolds and football star Jerome Bettis sitting around a square table debating laws of manly conduct.
The ads have generated more buzz than sales: Miller Lite sales were flat during the second quarter of 2006, while rivals Bud Light and Coors Light both posted gains. Now Miller is planning to launch humorous, comparative spots by Crispin to run alongside the "Square Table" work.
"They've realized that they have to get back to talking about the product attributes," said Joe Cotroneo, president of Crescent Crown Distributing, a Miller distributor in Phoenix that's seen Miller sales decline this summer. "They know they need to get back to what was working before."
A Miller spokesman said the brewer always planned to air more comparative spots, but they will likely get less airtime than the second round of "Square Table" work once it's released in September.
The new spots, which make their debut this week, feature athletic-looking men representing Bud Light and Miller Lite engaging in competitions over carbs, taste and even heritage. (In the latter, Miller Lite "wins" by dating to 1975 and Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever," as opposed to Bud Light's disco-dated 1982.)
Distributors also see the scrapping of the High Life "Girl in the Moon" campaign, by Wieden & Kennedy, as a welcome step. Miller made a controversial decision to retire the beloved, gravelly voiced "High Life Man" in favor of a more feminine positioning for the self-proclaimed "Champagne of beers," but sales for the 103-year-old premium lager have slumped.
The Miller spokesman said he "didn't believe" the High Life Man would be returning. "The High Life ads need to be stronger," Miller distributor Jeff Craine said during a July interview. "We went from the manly man to the 'Girl in the Moon.' I know it's supposed to be the 'Champagne of beers' and all that, but if nobody drinks, who cares?"
In addition to those changes, industry newsletter Beer Marketer's Insights reported last week that Miller was also scrapping its current campaign for another struggling brand, Miller Genuine Draft. The MGD spots, developed by the Martin Agency, have tried to position MGD as a "grown-up" beer, featuring 30-something drinkers discarding frat-house relics such as inflatable chairs, plastic cups and funnels.
The Miller spokesman said he was unaware of any plans to scrap the "grown-up" ads, which are still running, and added that the brand's sales have picked up in recent weeks. The spokesman also said all of Miller's current agencies are secure in their roles and no account reviews are planned.
Girl in the Moon
Inspiration: Said to be Loretta Miller Kopmeier, precocious granddaughter of Miller founder Frederick Miller
Tenure as pitchwoman: One year
Track record: The 98-year bottleneck vet was unable to reverse declining market share, which worsened on her watch
High Life Man
Inspiration: Hardworking Joes to whom the brand hoped to appeal
Tenure as pitchman: Eight years
Track record: He boosted sales from
1998 through 2003, but the brand's market share has declined steadily since