TAKING TIME ON MILLER TIME

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After parent Philip Morris Cos. put new management in at its Miller Brewing Co. unit, it was only a matter of time before the marketing executives named advertising partners of their own choosing. And they did so without subjecting their two troubled brands to a long, drawn-out, dog-and-pony-show agency review; CEO John Bowlin and Senior VP-Marketing Bob Mikulay knew enough about the agency world simply to hire shops staffed with people they trusted with these important assignments. How refreshing to see once again a display of confident decision-making.

As we have said on this page previously, Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft have storied places in the annals of marketing, and they've been allowed to stray from a sound consumer-communications course for too long. Sales of each are down significantly in the 1990s, and the declines have been steady from 1997 till today. So it's time for a full reevaluation, rather than a frantic search for quick-solution, hot-button ideas-as an agency review would in effect be. A consumer brand has to stand for something, and that something must be well grounded. Entertainment value in advertising is a positive factor, but it's not enough. Lite advertising of the recent past may well become a textbook case of that.

The new Miller agencies-WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson USA-will serve their client best by studying these brands long and hard before producing a single spot. O&M's chairman-CEO, Shelly Lazarus, has been quoted as saying her agency's first task will be to find "the brand essence" of Lite, which she will uncover not by looking at its advertising but by talking with everyone in the brew chain, from the people who make and distribute it to the people who consume it. Mr. Mikulay said Miller ad messages need to "convince consumers to choose one brand over another."

The beer industry has changed drastically since Miller created a domestic market for "light" beer and then brought in the "bottled draft" segment. Judging from these and other statements, the new stewards of Lite and MGD at least seem headed in the right direction: toward first finding out how these two brands fit into the competitive environment of today and then advertising that-not just

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