For proof of Miller's resurgence, look no further than Anheuser-Busch Cos., seller of half the beer in America. A-B, upset that Miller's "President of Beer" ads tweak the "King of Beers," is developing TV ads that show Miller is owned by foreigners. From a business standpoint, we hope Bud gets wiser and realizes the leader shouldn't go on the defensive. But from an ad standpoint, it's fun when a challenger takes on the leader-and more fun when No. 1 responds.
A-B already has cut prices in some markets to fend off Miller Lite. This isn't to suggest Miller is winning the game. A-B sales last year reached $13.5 billion in the U.S. (and $14.1 billion worldwide), and its U.S. beer shipments rose about 1% to 3.2 billion gallons.
Miller is a distant No. 2 with fiscal-year sales of $4.8 billion (out of SABMiller's $12.6 billion worldwide). U.S. shipments for the year were off slightly (down 0.4%). But Miller had a robust 5.9% shipment gain in the second half based mainly on the resurgence of Miller Lite, which got a boost from ads showing Lite has fewer carbs than Bud Light.
SABMiller is first to admit Miller will be a multiyear turnaround. Yet the makings of a comeback are there. Miller is executing a strategy backed by disciplined research, good brand positioning and improved marketing in everything from promotion to advertising. Miller, after early creative misfires under SABMiller, is producing solid work from a strong stable of agencies. Bud has the Clydesdales, but Miller is turning this into a two-horse race.