MillerCoors Pressures IPG to Force Deutsch off A-B Roster

Brewer Joint Venture Flexes Muscle as Agency Was Preparing Attack Ads Against It

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CHICAGO ( -- Heeding an appeal from client MillerCoors, Interpublic Group of Cos. has forced Deutsch to resign its place on Anheuser-Busch's agency roster.

Deutsch never actually succeeded in getting work on the air after joining A-B's roster early last summer, but the competitive nature of the work it was developing for A-B was enough to raise hackles at MillerCoors.

According to people familiar with the matter, Deutsch had been working on a series of attack ads aimed squarely at the joint venture between the U.S. arms of Molson Coors and SABMiller. At least one installment was intended make hay out of Miller and Coors products being brewed at the same breweries, in an attempt to call the brands' authenticity into question.

After MillerCoors executives got wind of what Deutsch was cooking up for A-B, they complained to Interpublic, the advertising holding company that also owns DraftFCB, the agency that handles creative assignments on MillerCoors' two largest brands as well as all of its media planning.

Of course, DraftFCB's business amounts to a far more lucrative load than the small, secretive corporate assignment Deutsch had with A-B, and it apparently didn't take Interpublic executives long to do the math before they forced Deutsch to quit.

A Deutsch spokeswoman referred a call to A-B, which confirmed that the company was no longer working with the agency. A MillerCoors spokesman declined to comment, and an Interpublic spokesman didn't return a phone call.

Whether A-B has permanently killed the Deutsch project, or if it is instead merely waiting for an opportune time to spring it, remains unclear. Also unclear is whether the work was intended to run in mainstream media outlets, or whether it was going to be seeded into online video channels.

A-B also likely was not finished with Deutsch, as its relationship with the ad shop had survived a sizable purge of the brewer's agency roster earlier this year.

The Deutsch project was commissioned by former A-B Chief Creative Officer Bob Lachky and current A-B CEO Dave Peacock, who was then the company's VP-Marketing, only a few months after news broke in late 2007 that Miller and Coors intended to join forces in the U.S.

But, last summer, A-B was acquired by InBev in a merger that likely complicated the ad effort. After all, if A-B was going to cite Miller products being made in Coors breweries to question their authenticity, couldn't Miller fire back that the so-called Great American Lager was now foreign owned? (A-B itself took similar jabs when Miller Brewing Co. was sold to South African Breweries earlier this decade.)

Miller Brewing traditionally relished those sorts of skirmishes, and it often tweaked A-B's corporate icons in its own marketing messages. It's not much of a leap to imagine a Miller response ad mocking the new Belgian Bud with a clogs-wearing Clydesdale, or worse.

But it is former Coors executives who call the marketing shots at MillerCoors nowadays, and neither CEO Leo Kiely nor CMO Andy England has, historically, shown much inclination toward that sort of mudslinging. Coors historically has been content to focus its marketing on its Rocky Mountain heritage during periods when A-B and Miller were flogging each other, and some Coors insiders credit that approach with helping the brand stand out. Coors Light is currently the only brand among the three major premium light beers to post growth this year.

Having the clout to force a holding company into walking away from an account is something of a full-circle moment for MillerCoors, whose two founding brewers lacked the scale to make such demands.

A-B, by contrast, was generally able to keep most of Omnicom, parent of its primary shop, DDB, away from rival brewers. In 2007, for instance, Omnicom-backed Hispanic shop Del Rivero Messianu DDB was forced to resign from Miller Lite's agency roster. And not long before that, Omnicom executives had denied BBDO permission to pitch Miller business out of deference to A-B.

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