MillerCoors Takes on Bud With More Spending on Coors Banquet

New 'How It's Done' Ads Come With Growing Media Investment

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The summer battle between full-calorie lagers Coors Banquet and Budweiser is about to heat up.

MillerCoors will pour more marketing dollars behind Banquet as it seeks to extend a positive sales streak for the brew. Five new TV ads will debut July 4 on networks including ESPN, CNN, TBS and FX. The spots continue the brand's focus on its ingredients and western attitude while using the familiar rugged voiceover of actor Sam Elliott. But the campaign will be framed with a new line: "How It's Done." The ads (one is above) are by 72andSunny, which took on lead creative and digital agency duties for Coors brands in late September.

The brewer will boost media spending on Banquet by 5% in 2016 compared with last year, MillerCoors Chief Marketing Officer David Kroll stated in an internal email sent to employees on Monday that was shared with Ad Age. "Instead of being on-air once every four weeks as in recent years, you'll see Coors Banquet ads every other week the rest of this year," he stated. Last year, MillerCoors spent $19.8 million in measured media on Banquet, according to Kantar Media.

Mr. Kroll noted that Banquet is on track for its 10th straight year of volume growth, but added that there is "plenty of opportunity to drive even greater sales momentum."

Notably, he drew a comparison to rival Budweiser. "Despite a much stronger performance, [Banquet] still lags Budweiser significantly on distribution, both in terms of number of stores in which it's sold and [points of distribution]," he said in the email. He also suggested that "we're still not getting enough Coors Family of Brand displays, despite the fact that we know these dual-branded displays result in incremental sales for both Coors Light and Coors Banquet."

That language seems to be a rallying cry to MillerCoors employees and wholesalers to take on Bud more directly.

The new "How It's Done" ads establish "a stronger connection between the beer inside the stubby bottle and the brand's values," a MillerCoors spokesman told Ad Age. All of the new ads are 15 seconds in length. That is a format that Mr. Kroll -- who took over the CMO role about a year ago -- seems to favor. A new round of Miller Lite ads launched in March also relied heavily on 15-second ads. The MillerCoors spokesman said the format "provides greater efficiencies for more air time and spreads out the media buy."

Banquet is a much smaller brand than Budweiser. Within the total beer category, Bud controls 6.23% dollar share, while Banquet has just 0.69% share, according to IRI, which does not include bar sales. (Bud Light 17.87% share while Coors Light has 7.16%.) Banquet accounts for 3% of MillerCoors' brand mix, while Budweiser accounts for 14% of Anheuser-Busch InBev's mix, according to a recent report by Sanford C. Bernstein.

But Banquet has been growing while Bud continues to decline, although trends for the so-called King of Beers have improved. This has made Banquet a more important brand in MillerCoors' portfolio. Banquet sales grew 3% in the three months ending on May 21, making it the only "big established" brand in MillerCoors' portfolio to grow in the period, Sanford C. Bernstein noted in the report.

Budweiser, which is the nation's third-largest beer, posted a volume decline of 0.7% for the four weeks ending June 4, according to Nielsen figures recently cited by Beer Marketer's Insights. When measured by dollar sales, Bud posted a slight increase of 0.5%, the trade publication reported.

The new Banquet ads come during the critical Fourth of July period, which is a key selling season for brewers. Last year Americans spent roughly $1 billion on beer to celebrate Independence Day, according to the Beer Institute, a beer trade group. Budweiser has sought to build summer momentum via rebranding Bud as "America" with limited-time packaging that will run from late May through November.

Below are two additional examples of the new Banquet ads:

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