Bud Light's medieval "Dilly Dilly" campaign is arguably the biggest beer ad hit since Dos Equis' the Most Interesting Man in the World. But despite the buzz, Miller Lite marketer Greg Butler is not wallowing in a pit of misery—because he says sales trends are on his side.
"I get a ton of people saying, 'Are you going to do something like Dilly Dilly?' And I'm like 'No, I have to sell beer, not sell a meme,'" says Butler, who's overseen Lite for the past three years. "'Dilly Dilly' has become a new phrase for cheersing, but it's actually not driving Bud Light volume. My job is actually not to sell culture, it's actually to sell beer. And the reality is it's not selling beer."
In truth, Miller Lite and Bud Light are both in decline, as the brews fight off competition from spirits and craft brews. But Bud Light is falling faster, giving hope to MillerCoors executives that Lite's strategy, while failing to grab "Dilly Dilly"-like headlines, is working.
Bud Light is still the nation's biggest beer by far, ending 2017 with a 15.4 percent market share measured by shipments, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. But its shipment volumes fell 5.7 percent, compared with a 2.8 percent drop for Lite, whose market share is 6.1 percent. Both brands are still stuck in decline this year, but Lite keeps getting the better of its larger competitor. Bud Light's retail sales volume fell 6.8 percent in the four weeks ending Feb 10 (which includes the all-important Super Bowl period), compared with a 3.5 percent drop for Lite, according to Nielsen data recently cited by Beer Marketer's Insights.
'Down is down'
An ad executive who once worked on Lite downplayed the brand's progress. "While Miller Lite trends are better, Miller Lite is still way off its peak and it's just dropping slower," this person says. "That's hardly a win. Down is down."
Butler concedes that he had hoped Lite would be out of negative territory by now. But "we believe our strategy is right [and] the data is proving our strategy is right," he says. MillerCoors this week rewarded him with a promotion, naming him VP of strategy. His previous title was VP for the Miller brand family, which includes Lite and High Life.
Lite, which has cycled through various campaigns and agencies in recent years, has finally found some marketing consistency. While the brand switched from 180LA to DDB as its lead agency last year, it has stuck with a creative strategy first adopted in 2016. Ads eschew humor in favor of claims that Lite has more taste and half the carbs as Bud Light. The relatively simple approach "goes against all the category conventions of beer advertising," Butler says, avoiding silliness and celebrities in favor of spreading information.
"If I was going to present myself at a bar I wouldn't try to to meet you and be funny and make you laugh. You would probably say you are trying too hard, go away," says Butler, a Canadian native and former management consultant who holds a Harvard MBA. "It's more of a relationship, which is 'Tell me something interesting about you and I will figure out if I want to engage.' And that's why we think our work is working."
At bars, MillerCoors has been putting Miller Lite up against Bud Light in blind taste tests called "Know Your Beer." The brand has sought attention for program by lining up paid integrations with YouTube stars such as Andrew Fitzpatrick, known as "80Fitz," and Jenna Ezarik.
Taste tests and comparative advertising are hardly new tactics, of course. And Lite's product-focused messaging certainly lacks the pizazz of Bud Light's campaign, which is generating roughly 1.1 million Google searches of "Dilly Dilly" per month, according to the brand.
Leaning into taste tests
"No doubt, 'Dilly Dilly'—it's become a social meme," Butler concedes. "But I think that if you were to ask anyone at [Anheuser Busch] do they want to spend how many hundreds of millions of dollars to build a social meme or sell beer, I think they would tell you they would prefer to be selling beer. And our share performance has held while theirs has accelerated in decline."
In recent interviews, Bud Light VP Andy Goeler has expressed confidence in the campaign, which is handled by Wieden & Kennedy. "Step one has to be exactly what we are doing, getting the brand back into conversation in a fun way, connecting it to friendship ...that's my whole focus," he recently told Ad Age. "If I'm able to do that for an extended period of time…sales will follow."
Asked to respond to Butler's criticism, a Bud Light spokesman this week kept to the medieval script. "Whether you're a true friend of the crown or stuck in the pit of misery, there's no denying the success of the 'Dilly Dilly' campaign and how it has become a part of culture," he says. "From Philadelphia to Pyeongchang, people continue to use 'Dilly Dilly' to celebrate moments with friends, and that's exactly where Bud Light wants to be. We're going to stay focused on driving conversation and engagement with our drinkers as the number one brand in the industry should."
Lite, meanwhile, plans to dial up its taste test program by expanding it beyond bars to retail stores. In an age where shelves are filled with flavorful and exoctic craft beers, making a taste play on a light lager might seem antiquated. This comment, from a viewer posting a reaction to the taste test video from YouTuber Fitzpatrick, typifies the skepticism of big brands from craft beer aficionados: "Why Miller and bud though wtf. Why not go craft beer sooooo much betterrrr."
Butler's response: "Do I think people who love craft and who poo-poo on light lagers are going to like this program? Probably not. But the reality is they are a small minority versus the majority of people who love light beer."
That's why Miller Lite wants to keep the focus on Bud Light, in hopes of stealing share. "Yes there is lots of craft beer," Butler says. But "Bud Light is massive," he adds, noting that "one in five beers purchased in America is a Bud Light."