Features Referee Who Penalizes Beer-Drinking Fans

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CHICAGO ( -- Taking its battle against Anheuser-Busch to the gridiron, Miller Brewing Co. is breaking new ads for the start of the National Football League season.
In one new spot, a referee penalizes banquet attendees for an 'ineligible toast' with the wrong brand of beer.

Playing on the gridiron theme, the new spots feature referees who "penalize" people for drinking Budweiser or Bud Light.

'Roughing palate'
In one Miller Genuine Draft spot, a couple is on a date and the man gives the woman a bottle of Bud. A penalty flag flies at him, and a referee appears. He charges him with "roughing the palate," notes the man has a unibrow and will not be getting a second date.

Created by WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, the spots continue Miller's year-old "Good Call" campaign, which positions Miller Lite and Genuine Draft as the better-tasting alternatives to other beers -- namely those of arch rival Anheuser-Busch, which holds more than 50% of the market.

Since its acquisition by South African Breweries, the once-somnolent Miller brand has used aggressive advertising strategies to become a formidable competitor to Anheuser Busch. Miller Lite has racked up 12 months of improving sales after years of flat or declining performance. Such rebounds are extremely rare in the beer industry. For the 52 weeks ended Aug. 8, Miller Lite sales in supermarkets were up 10.7% and its market share hit 8.2%, up from 7.3%.

'Dominant market leader'
"We are going up against a very ... dominant market leader," said Victor Rutstein, Miller's director of brand development. "We have to take on an able challenger" role.

Use of the referees in the latest ads is an attempt to remain topical, just as the now-retired "President of Beer" work from independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., was tied to the presidential election.

Hoping to stand out from other football-related beer advertising, the ads incorporate imagery associated with the game rather than showing football players or fans or other conventional approaches, Mr. Rutstein said.

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