Marketing 50

Miller Lite

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Bob Mikulay has accomplished what a few years ago would have been unthinkable in getting Miller Lite growing again.

The exec VP-marketing for Miller Brewing Co. has done it by steering the beer's strongest marketing program since the brewer jettisoned the first generation "Tastes great, less filling" ads a decade ago. The strategy is to take aim at Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light and position Miller Lite as the better-tasting, low-carb alternative.

After years of searching for a successful strategy, Miller Lite now is emulating the comparison tests of Cendant Corp.'s Avis and PepsiCo's Pepsi. Miller has spurred sales by touting that Lite has fewer carbs. It has run ads saying Lite beats Bud Light in taste tests. It's held tens of thousands of "taste challenges" at bars and night spots nationwide .

"The fundamental shift ... was taking more of a challenger mentality," says Mr. Mikulay, 53, pre- viously Philip Morris USA's senior VP-marketing.

The direction sprang out of a comprehensive review in 2003 of Miller's portfolio. That happened after South African Breweries bought Miller from Philip Morris Cos., creating SABMiller. Among the findings: Miller Lite's taste and carb count could be used as selling points.

"We have found a compelling point of difference for the brand that's resonating with consumers," Mr. Mikulay says.

The numbers bear that out. Miller Lite shipments increased 0.6% in 2003 to 15.7 million barrels after slipping since 1999, according to figures from Beer Marketer's Insights. In August, the brand celebrated 12 straight months of year-over-year sales increases.

Miller Lite, however, won't overtake its archrival anytime soon-Bud Light shipped 38.1 million barrels in 2003, according to Insights.

But A-B certainly noticed that last year marked Bud Light's smallest sales increase in eight years, thanks to the popularity of Lite and A-B's own low-carb Michelob Ultra.

Mr. Mikulay knows he can't rest. "We've got to be nimble [and] smart," he says. "We have to be one step ahead."

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