MillerCoors Shakes Up Shops, Cuts Ties With DraftFCB

WPP Forms New Multiagency Team to Handle Creative, Digital for Coors Brands

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MillerCoors is making major changes to its agency roster, the biggest of which is the brewer's cutting ties with its longtime lead creative agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB.

As part of the shift, Publicis Groupe 's Razorfish has lost creative and digital-media duties. Digital and creative for Coors brands will now move to a new multiagency group at WPP. For the Miller Lite brand, the brewer has picked Saatchi & Saatchi as lead creative shop, after giving it a tryout in January. Digitas, however, keeps Miller Lite digital-creative and -media duties.

Andy England
Andy England

"Winning in premium lights [beer] is the centerpiece of our long-term business stragegy, and we've determined that some agency changes will give us the best chance to do exactly that ," MillerCoors Exec VP-Chief Marketing Officer Andy England told Ad Age today. "What we are looking for is sustainable, above-the-line excellence with an integrated solution," including traditional and digital marketing.

The new WPP team will be housed in Chicago (where MillerCoors is headquartered) and draw on talent from JWT, Ogilvy, Y&R and Grey , as well as digital shops. WPP declined to comment.

Mr. England said he was impressed by the "depth of creative talent and beer experience" of the group. "It is deep and it is wide. We'll have access to an enormous bench of creative talent."

As part of the shift, the brewer is moving digital planning and buying on Coors brands to Interpublic's Initiative , which will also pick up traditional media planning for all brands. The shop was already doing traditional media buying.

The decision is a major blow for DraftFCB, Chicago, which is still trying to regain its footing after losing the global SC Johnson account, a relationship that dates back 58-plus years and was one of the agency's largest accounts. The agency has had Miller Lite since 2009, and its roots on the Coors brand goes back to 1979, when predecessor Foote Cone Belding worked on the brand.

DraftFCB began losing its grip on Lite in January, when the brand brought in Saatchi & Saatchi, New York -- already a roster agency -- to assist on the "Miller Time " campaign that premiered in late March and is aimed at lifting the nation's fourth-largest beer from a long slump. The loss of Coors Banquet and Coors Light is especially tough for the agency. Each brand has been growing lately. Coors Light passed Budweiser last year as the No. 2 beer in the U.S., partly because of its long-running cold-refreshment messaging.

"We are obviously very disappointed by this decision, but have no choice but to accept it," DraftFCB said in a statement. "We are extremely proud of the work we have produced for MillerCoors over the course of our relationship, and we wish the client continued success going forward.

"We're especially pleased to have helped Coors Light surpass Budweiser as the country's No. 2 beer earlier this year, and we look forward to continuing our assignments with MolsonCoors in Canada, and with Coors in China and Puerto Rico," the company said.

Mr. England said that he was "very grateful to DraftFCB for its decades of work on helping to build Coors Light and Coors Banquet into the vibrant and groing brands that we have today." But, he added, "you don't continue growing by staying put."

DraftFCB and Saatchi & Saatchi had been working separately on Miller Lite since January, with each assigned roughly half the work for the new campaign. In effect, the process was a public tryout for the high-profile account, which was backed by more than $146 million in measured media in 2011, according to Kantar.

The Saatchi ads "tested well, which is very important to us," Mr. England said. He said he was also impressed with the agencies' work on the recently rebranded Miller64 (formerly MGD64) and cited the benefit of bringing the Miller brands under one shop.

Miller Lite has struggled recently. Shipments fell by 4.3% in 2011, and market share dropped to 7.2% from 7.4%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. In the first quarter, Lite sales to retailers were down "low single digits," an improvement over other recent quarters, according to SABMiller, which owns the brewer, along with Molson Coors.

With "Miller Time ," the brewer is seeking to position the brand as the beer of choice when good friends get together, reprising the classic tagline that in previous incarnations had been used to plug Lite as the reward for hard work. Saatchi's ads, which were the first out of the gate, featured scenes of close friends enjoying the brew while camping, golfing and playing cards.

DraftFCB's spots, which began airing in April, showed friends with nicknames like "The Hound" and "Mr. Easy," in nighttime scenes. The agency also created ads promoting Lite's new "Punch Top" cans, which have a second hole meant to be opened with a house key, golf tee or other object. The brewer says the small opening "increases airflow, reducing glug and resulting in an improved, smoother pour."

Like most big beer brands, Lite is searching for marketing solutions in the face of aggressive competition for millennials from spirits and regional craft beers. The nation's largest beer, Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light, last year hired Dentsu's McGarryBowen, Chicago, ending a long relationship with DDB, Chicago. A-B has also launched higher-alcohol Bud Light Platinum, aimed partly at stealing share from spirits.

"Miller Time " is markedly different from Draft's previous effort, called "Man Up," which sought to position Lite as a superior-tasting beer by using over-the-top humor to mock men who chose other brands.

~~ Contributing: Maureen Morrison

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