CHICAGO -- The Aug. 31 sketch started innocuously enough: NBC's "Late Night" host Conan O'Brien joked to bandleader Max Weinberg that Miller had asked him to do a beer ad for its new Miller Chill brand, but he had refused because doing so would cheapen his image.
Miller Chill Featured in 'Live' Commercial on 'Late Night'
Brewer Pays to Have Brand Appear in Segment Written by Show's Staff
A scene from the Miller Chill ad on Conan O'Brien's show.
Mr. Weinberg suggested Mr. O'Brien shoot and air the ad in Japan, where American viewers wouldn't see it. Seconds later, viewers were watching an anime version of Mr. Weinberg, with Miller Chill bottles for arms, slaying a dragon as two giggling Japanese women looked on.
So is that a sketch or an ad, anyway?
Not a sketch
"I'd call it a 'live' commercial, with the 'live' in quotation marks because it was pre-taped," said Shari Post, VP-daytime and late night sales at NBC. "I wouldn't call it a sketch."
As Ms. Post explains it, NBC pitched the idea of a Conan-written spot to Miller after it got wind of the No. 2 U.S. brewer's ambitious national launch plans for Chill, its new lime-and-salt infused light beer. Brewers are constantly looking for ways to reach elusive 20-somethings, and Mr. O'Brien's audience is rife with them.
For a cost of "definitely more than a 30-second spot," according to Ms. Post, Miller didn't get any input into the writing of the sketch, but it was able to review -- and could have vetoed -- the finished product, primarily in order to make sure it didn't contain any underage drinking scenes.
The results, according to executives at Miller's media-buying agency, Starcom USA, have exceeded expectations. "From an awareness standpoint, we're exceeding our overall objectives," said Katie Ford, a senior VP at Starcom. "The audience base for Conan is bang-on for what we were looking for."
Will increase marketing support
Chill's launch has been positive for Miller this summer, and the brand is on pace to exceed the 400,000-barrels-shipped target set by Miller executives. Miller has also indicated it will increase marketing support for the brand in the fourth quarter, which could be a challenging period for a product that has worked hard to invoke sunny Mexico in a Spanglish-tinged ad campaign from Y&R, Chicago.
The so-called live commercial for Miller was actually the second such ad to run on NBC this summer. In June, "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" aired an actually-live ad for Garmin GPS devices, which -- unlike the goofy Miller spot starring Mr. Weinberg -- focused primarily on product attributes by mocking men who refuse to ask for directions while driving.
ABC's Jimmy Kimmel has also run similar spots in the past.