CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- How much buzz does it take to sell Milwaukee's Best? Apparently a lot more than 3 million hits on YouTube and 197 blog mentions.
Proving that viral sensations don't always immediately translate into sensational sales, the bargain beer's video of its "Beer Cannon" that fires cans of Milwaukee's Best Light to destroy such unmanly targets such as china dishes, house plants and fruit has inspired discussion but not much consumption.
Sales of Milwaukee's Best fell 11% in supermarkets for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 9, according to Information Resources Inc., and sales of Best Light dropped 7.5%.
Best and Best Light -- Miller Brewing Co.'s fifth- and fourth-best-sellers, respectively -- are underperforming even within the struggling subpremium-beer sector, which declined only 2% in the same period.
Milwaukee's Best Family Brand Manager Chad Dern said even though the sales figures don't reflect much progress yet, the can-crushing campaign is slowly crushing perceptions of a brew primarily marketed as a low-cost commodity in recent years.
"We're improving the way people think about this brand," said Mr. Dern. "We're creating a true product differentiation with other beers in our category among all videos posted to the site."
He added that Miller's research shows that awareness of the brand is increasing. That's a good thing, considering its ad spending, at $9 million in measured media last year, was a blip compared to that of larger rivals, including many other brands in the Miller portfolio.
Video of the cannon, which launched early this summer on Miller's website, sat largely unnoticed until August, when the brewer began buying ads on YouTube for the explosive videos loaded with references to Milwaukee's Best Light.
The destruction of unmanly items by sand-refilled cans of the beer known as "the beast" is also a theme in outdoor ads that stage fake, feminine ad campaigns for testosterone-reducing sights such as men on scooters, only to can-crush them weeks later. And in recent TV spots for Milwaukee's Best Light from Mother, New York, a drinker emerging from a convenience store holding import beer is promptly crushed by a giant can of Best Light. "Men should act like men," a voice-over interjects. "And light beer should taste like beer." To stress the point even further, the brand has a high-visibility sponsorship of the World Series of Poker.
Beer vs. spirits
The direct attack on imports is explained by the fact that not only is beer as a whole losing ground to spirits, but most of the growth within beer is confined to upscale import and craft brands.
"It's been extremely tough to grow brands in that segment," said Benj Steinman, editor and publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights. "And [Best's] numbers show that."
Mr. Dern, however, takes a bullish view on the sector. "There are a lot of drinkers who choose beers for value and taste."
Lost market share
A Miller spokesman acknowledges the brand lost market share this year, but said Best "stabilized" in September, which he called a sign that the marketing campaign was working.
And, in fact, Nielsen Buzzmetrics Chief Marketing Officer Pete Blackshaw said he sees only upside in the beer-cannon phenom for a downtrodden brand like Milwaukee's Best, even if the early sales returns aren't impressive. "Social media like this isn't direct response; it's more like television, where you give someone an impression of a brand and they act on it later," he said. "I don't think Milwaukee's Best has anything to lose. It's all upside for them."