High Life's One-Second Spots Yield 8.6% Sales Boost After Super Bowl

Miller Credits Hubbub Around Ads, Which Didn't Even Run in Some Markets

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Miller High Life's one-second Super Bowl ads that weren't created a sales bump that definitely was.

Sales of High Life popped 8.6% during the week after the Super Bowl vs. the same period a year earlier, and they were up nearly 5% during the week before the game, according to ACNielsen.

'High Life': All Miller needed to say.
'High Life': All Miller needed to say.
The contrast between those numbers and the generally incremental gains the brand has been posting in recent months makes it clear that the hubbub surrounding the brewer's one-second Super Bowl ads drove the surge. Not bad, considering the ads didn't even run in many large markets -- including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles -- because NBC directed its owned and operated stations not to run them.

"One of the big things for us [in making the ads] was that we thought we could sell more beer," said High Life Brand Manager Kevin Oglesby. "We definitely sold more beer."

Miller announced plans to air the ads -- and placed a bunch of them online -- on Jan. 20. The spots' inherent critique of spending so lavishly on advertising in a recession -- "Paying $3 million for a 30-second commercial makes as much sense as putting sauerkraut on a donut," a promotional website said -- drew national notice, including coverage in USA Today and other major media outlets.

Not a jab?
Many observers naturally assumed that barb was aimed at Miller's traditional foil, Anheuser-Busch, which boasted 4 minutes and 30 seconds of ad time during the game. But Miller executives insist the ads were merely an attempt to broadcast the brand's value-oriented sensibility and not a shot at A-B or anyone else.

NBC, however, wasn't buying it. The Super Bowl network apparently viewed the ads as disparaging to advertisers willing to pay up for the game during a year when fewer were and directed its owned and operated affiliates not to run the commercials, which were set to run via spot buys all over the country. (A-B is the official malt-beverage sponsor of the Super Bowl broadcast and, as such, is the only beer advertiser allowed to make national buys during the game.)

As a result, millions of fans in major markets missed seeing the ads they'd read about beforehand. But that development doesn't seem to have hurt sales, considering the 8.6% gain in the week following the Super Bowl was among the highest the brand has registered in two years, according to Nielsen.

The one-second ad still managed to run in more than 100 markets nationwide. Created by Saatchi & Saatchi, the ad featured the populist beer-truck driver played by actor Windell Middlebrooks quickly shouting the words "High Life."

Mr. Middlebrooks' character first appeared in 2007 spots created by High Life's former agency, Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. In those, he was seen confiscating the brand from French bistros and gourmet grocers. Crispin lost the account when it resigned the Miller business later that year, but Saatchi kept Mr. Middlebrooks and evolved the character further. In one recent spot, he barges into a ballpark luxury suite, demands to know what the score is and confiscates the beer after none of the clueless suits in the suite can tell him.

High Life sales, which fell four straight years until the introduction of the campaign, have been generally stronger since. "Clearly the campaign is a cornerstone in this turnaround," Mr. Oglesby said. "Our positioning rings even more true right now in consumers' minds."

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