Hey, Those A-B Brands Look Like Miller Beers

Brewer Introduces Low-Calorie and Wheat Varieties Similar to Rival's

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Anheuser-Busch has unveiled two new brand extensions -- Bud Light Golden Wheat and Bud Select 55 -- that seem a bit familiar.

Miller, after all, tested a Miller Lite-branded wheat beer under its Brewer's Collection last year, ultimately deciding against taking the brand national. And a 64-calorie version of Miller Genuine Draft, dubbed MGD 64, has helped that brand franchise post its first sales increase in more than a decade by appealing to zealous calorie counters.

Those two launches follow last year's Bud Light Lime, which was introduced on the heels of Miller's earlier lime-flavored entry, Miller Chill.

So is A-B using MillerCoors as its market-research lab?

"Look, if I was following the Miller Lite [Brewer's Collection], I wouldn't be doing it, because they weren't successful," said Keith Levy, A-B's VP-marketing. "But I'm not. This is an idea we've been looking at for a couple of years."

Mr. Levy said the growth of the wheat-beer category, fueled by the likes of MillerCoors' Blue Moon and numerous smaller craft versions, has gotten A-B's attention. Bud Light's version will be a sweeter, lighter take on the style along the lines of Bud Light Lime. It will have 118 calories, compared with 110 in Bud Light. And a six-pack will cost between $1 and $1.50 more than Bud Light and Budweiser do.

Also like Bud Light Lime, the brand will be backed by an ambitious $30 million media budget that will go to sports and entertainment TV, as well as digital and out of home. Mr. Levy said agency assignments aren't set in stone, but he expects Bud Light and Budweiser agency DDB, Chicago, to "get a crack" at the brand. "If history is any predictor, DDB has earned the business on [past launches Bud Light Lime and Budweiser American Ale]," he said. "And it does make sense to use the same agency across the megabrand."

Response to MGD 64 success?
By contrast, Bud Select 55, which will be tested in August in 10 markets, does look plainly like a response to MGD 64's success. Mr. Levy acknowledged that the company has always "studied what's going on in the marketplace," and did so when it launched Bud Light in the wake of Miller Lite's pioneering success in that category. Bud Light is now more than twice the size of Miller Lite.

"If you look at our company's history, there are times when we've gotten in there first, like with Michelob Ultra [the first low-carbohydrate brand, launched in late 2003]," he said. "And there are times like in 1982, when we just built a better mousetrap."

A-B appears to have repeated that feat with Bud Light Lime, which has dramatically outperformed the first-to-market Miller Chill. The older brand has since been reformulated, as well as repackaged in a manner that resembles Bud Light Lime.

A Miller spokesman said he couldn't immediately comment.

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