MillerCoors Exec Discusses the Way Forward For Light Beer

Six Questions With VP-Brand Marketing Gannon Jones

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Miller Lite Original Can
Miller Lite Original Can

The next few months are a critical period for MillerCoors as it transitions Miller Lite to a new creative agency and seeks to reverse the recent decline of Coors Light.

The brewer, as CEO Tom Long recently outlined to distributors, is changing its messaging to talk more about what it sees as the inherent strengths of its big light beer brands, which have suffered during the craft beer craze.

Americans still want to drink light beers, "they just do it on fewer occasions," he said during a private meeting at a recent National Beer Wholesalers Association gathering in New Orleans, according to a transcript of his speech. "And so we don't have to convince them to come back to premium lights. We just have to give them good reasons to be proud to drink our premium lights whenever and wherever they may be, and that means making sure our brands are as high-quality as our beers."

One person who will help lead that charge is Gannon Jones, a former PepsiCo marketer who joined MillerCoors a year ago as VP-brand marketing, reporting directly to Chief Marketing Officer Andy England.

MillerCoors VP-Brand Marketing Gannon Jones
MillerCoors VP-Brand Marketing Gannon Jones

Ad Age caught up with Mr. Jones at the NBWA event to get his thoughts on the light beer category, as well as the brewer's recent hiring of TBWA Worldwide, Los Angeles for the Miller Lite creative account.

Ad Age: Why did you pick TBWA for Miller Lite?

Mr. Jones: We said all along that we were looking for a long-term partner. This wasn't about picking a specific script that we liked. … It was great chemistry with us [and TBWA]. They got the brands really well, but they also had a great understanding of millennials and particularly Hispanic millennials. It was really a unanimous decision. It was easy for us [and] we wanted to move quickly.

Ad Age: Some analysts have suggested that big beer brands are in the midst of an inevitable and irreversible decline, saying that millennials don't want to drink their father's beer. What is your response to this theory?

Mr. Jones: I think there is truth to that, but I don't think that it is definitive. Just like any category, brands need to constantly reinvent themselves to remain relevant for the next generation of consumers.

If there is a mistake that perhaps we've made at times in the industry, it's forgetting that who brought you here isn't going to bring you to where you need to go. We are very conscious of that. And we are very conscious of who we need to win with in the future, and that's where we are putting our resources. You obviously don't want to lose who brought you here, but as they age, they are not drinking as much. So you have to go after those who are coming into the fold.

Ad Age: Now that you have a new agency for MIller Lite, what can we expect creatively? Will you move away from humor at all?

Mr. Jones: Humor is a part of our category, it's a part of our brand. And I would expect that it will still remain a part of what we do.

You will probably see us evolve to a form of humor that also helps elevate the brand and reflects the intelligence of our consumer. We definitely will talk about our product, just like we've been talking about our product this year. Because I think we do believe there is an opportunity to speak about the beer credentials of our brand.

Ad Age: Has MillerCoors adequately defended the light beer category and Miller Lite against critics?

Mr. Jones: Any time a brand gets away from its story it generally starts to suffer. I do think that we got away from really what we were all about, probably over the last decade. The packaging and the white can [for Miller Lite] helped us rediscover that.

If you actually look at the world of lighter, sessionable beers, consumers are still drinking a lot of that. They have moved away perhaps a bit from what we've defined as the big three, the domestic premium lights.

I was down in Charlotte a month ago, and we were talking to some consumers and they said, 'I drink light beer. My favorite light beer is Miller High Life.' Obviously it's not a light beer by our definition. But just because a brand doesn't have the word 'lite' or 'light' at the end of it doesn't mean that they count that as part of a different category.

Ad Age: What, specifically, was the mistake that Miller Lite made?

Mr. Jones: For one, we did move away from talking about our product. The last time we talked about our product was probably six or seven or eight years ago. And so as somebody who is 21 or 22 now today, they never heard us talk about that.

We are a great, authentic light beer. We invented this category. We are a pilsner beer. We have a lot of great credential stories that we definitely stopped talking about. Maybe we did start to play the game a little bit of chasing each other [chasing competitors] … instead of being true to who we really were.

Ad Age: Where is Coors Light headed?

Mr. Jones: Fundamentally, our strategy is sound on Coors Light. [But] we have, over the course of the last six months, discovered a few things. One is that while we own the notion of cold, consumers aren't laddering that to a specific, or particular, benefit that is relevant to them. So what you will see us starting to do … is connect the dots between what cold gives you. ... Again, back to talking a bit about the product: Our obsession with cold, cold filtered, cold bottled, never exposed to the extremes of heat -- all of that gives you a cleaner, crisper, smoother, more refreshing beer, which supports the notion of us being the world's most refreshing beer.

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