Memo to Miller Chief: Turn It Around, Again

Distributors Call for Ad Changes as Brewer Loses Market Share to A-B

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Incoming miller ceo Tom Long was promoted to the top job on the back of his work as CMO. But distributors and beer-industry experts hope his elevation is a harbinger of marketing change, not continuity, at the backsliding brewer.

An ad-driven resurgence in 2003 and 2004 saw Miller gain ground on big-time rival and market leader Anheuser-Busch, but recent results have seen share slipping again. That means Mr. Long is under the gun to improve on recent marketing efforts, which experts have said were poor and contributed to the brewer stalling again.

Miller's market share fell to 18.4% from 18.5% during 2005, and has been following a similar pace this year. "Those losses probably aren't [Mr. Long's] fault," said independent alcohol-industry analyst Manny Goldman. "A few years ago, they caught Anheuser by surprise, and now Anheuser's firing with both barrels."

Some don't think that Mr. Long should be absolved of blame, however. Tom Pirko, of Santa Monica, Calif., consultancy Beverage Marketing, said Mr. Long abandoned what worked, namely Miller's highly successful public goading of Anheuser-Busch, which was central to the campaigns on carb content and taste that drove Miller's surge earlier this decade. After A-B retaliated in 2005, whacking Miller with price cuts that were described by parent SAB Miller as "savage," the South African-owned brewer seemed to lose its taste for the attack ads.

too comfortable?

Others worry that there's some complacency at work. "There seems to be an attitude of, 'We've turned the corner and everything's OK,"' said Jeff Craine, general manger of Miller Distributing of Fort Worth, Texas.

All told, Mr. Craine said he gave Mr. Long "between a B and a B-plus" as CMO, saying he blames the recent struggles of Miller's No. 2 and No. 3 brands, Miller Genuine Draft and Miller High Life, on poor marketing.

But he approved of Mr. Long's decision to shift flagship brand Miller Lite's creative duties to Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which unveiled its masculine-celebrity-dotted "Man Laws" campaign in the spring. The ads have drawn buzz for eschewing the bikini-clad models typically associated with beer advertising in favor of recognizable manly men such as Burt Reynolds and Jerome Bettis debating rules of manliness. But Miller Light has not yet made up any ground on rivals Bud Light and Coors Light-so it's not clear if the ads are selling more suds than previous programs.

A Miller spokesman said it's too soon to evaluate the impact of the ads, which have aired since the spring, but noted that a create-your-own-man-law section on the campaign's website drew 2 million hits in its first two weeks as evidence that the work is "piercing through the filter into pop culture."

pushing craft lines

But others still aren't sold on the Crispin work. "I've talked to people around the industry about them and have gotten a uniformly negative message," said Mr. Pirko, whose Beverage Marketing has done work for Miller in the past. "The campaign is ... downscale, stale, homophobic ... everything their advertising should not be."

Mr. Pirko said Mr. Long's best chance to broaden Miller's appeal and reverse that slide is to tap the expertise he and incoming CMO Randy Ransom shared from their days at Coca-Cola. "They're coming from a marketing culture that's been much more effective at being inclusive and broadening its appeal," he said.

And there are signs that, under Mr. Long and Mr. Ransom, Miller intends to do exactly that.

Two people familiar with the matter said Miller was planning a "significant push" behind its craft lines, Leinenkugel and Henry Weinhard's, on top of an existing campaign for import Peroni, in an attempt to tap a sales surge in both categories.

"We're going to develop a portfolio that fully capitalizes on consumer movements," the Miller spokesman said.

Mr. Long and Mr. Ransom both declined interview requests for this story.

Long's resume

Miller (July 2005-present)

* CEO (effective 8/1)

* Chief marketing officer

Coca-Cola Co. (1988-2005)

* President-northwest Europe

* President-Great Britain & Ireland

* Director-global strategic marketing

* Director-research and trends

* VP-national sales

* VP-Wal-Mart global account

* VP-7-Eleven account
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