Miller needs to fix ad brew

Published on .

Memo to miller brewing co.: Halt the indecision and start marketing beer. On this page in August '99, we congratulated Miller execs for "their confident decision-making" in assigning Miller Genuine Draft and Miller Lite to J. Walter Thompson USA and Ogilvy & Mather, respectively, without drawn-out reviews. Now, nearly a year later, progress has stalled.

The brewer's latest management shuffle is its third since April of last year when John Bowlin, president-CEO, took the helm. Miller has displayed similar waffling with its agencies. After appointing Ogilvy to the Lite business last August, the brewer asked its Hispanic shop, Square One, to pitch in on general market work. Now, the marketer appears to be showing strong loyalty to Ogilvy -- despite distributor dissatisfaction with Ogilvy's "Grab a Miller Lite. It's Miller Time" campaign. (Some even say Lite's former effort, the much maligned "Dick" campaign, no longer looks so bad.) The same constituency has been "lukewarm" on JWT's Miller Genuine Draft ads. So what does Miller do? Give JWT its Foster's account.

True, distributors -- typically focused on local market concerns above all -- can be expected to grouse when they feel they're getting no help from the factory ad campaign. Usually, a sales uptick cures the complaints. But in Miller's case, their outburst comes amid sales gains for both Lite and MGD.

Most troubling, however, is the lack of attention to ad spending, which has become almost an afterthought in the chaos. The brewer's once-mighty budget has shrunk to less than that of No. 3 ranked Coors Brewing Co., leading one distributor to call Miller "the gang that couldn't shoot straight."

The best cure for Miller's woes is a hefty dose of good advertising. Stop the infighting. Settle on a campaign and put sufficient media weight behind it. Miller's time is now.

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