Is Miller Genuinely Daft?

MGD Keeps Changing Its Message, Sales Keep Sliding

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CHICAGO ( -- Beer marketing 101: The most consistent brands fare best. Bud Light got to No. 1 by providing three decades of nearly uninterrupted chucklehead, frat-boy humor; Corona became the top import by never straying from the beach; and Coors Light surged in recent years by obsessing about its Rocky Mountain roots.
Product: The real problem?
Product: The real problem?

Then there's Miller Genuine Draft.

Since 2001, the long-declining brand has burned through four agencies* and is about to break at least its eighth tagline in almost as many years. During that time, it has centered its pitch on both juvenile sexual humor and the maturity of the people who drink it; cited both its lack of pretense and its inherent sophistication; and touted its cold-filtration brewing as superior while being marketed in tandem with its heat-pasteurized siblings.

Maybe this time
Given those dizzying contradictions, it's perhaps not surprising that shipments have dropped about 41% since 2001 to roughly half its early-'90s peak, a trend Miller hopes it can snap with a new campaign -- once it settles on one, that is.

In an interview at Miller's distributor conference in New Orleans last week, Deb Boyda, the Milwaukee-based brewer's VP-content communications, said the brewer plans to test two different campaign ideas, both from MGD agency of record Y&R, Chicago. The aim is to replace last year's failed "Experience is golden" effort, which focused on the beer's cold-filtration origins and also referenced the active lifestyles of its target drinkers.

The first idea being tested plays upon the word "genuine" in the brand's name by setting the beer in contrast to phoniness. "We brew to a high standard, and we brew for people who live to one," said Ms. Boyda, summarizing that pitch. The second effort being tested, she said, echoes the "Out of the old, into the cold" campaign that launched MGD to early success during the late 1980s and early 1990s by emphasizing refreshment metaphors. Sales of Miller's MGD have declined more than 40% since 2001.

This one will last
Asked about MGD's propensity to change campaigns annually, Ms. Boyda declined to discuss the past. But she said the apparent toll on the brand from the constant campaign flux explained why Miller was being so "diligent" in picking the next direction for the brand, one it hopes to stay with for a while. "We're not going to play fast and loose with such an important brand," she said. "It's always challenging to resurrect a brand that was vital and dynamic and bring it up to date."

Spending, too, has been erratic. MGD was supported with only $15 million in measured media in 2007 and about $38 million during 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence. In 2004, the brand got nearly $93 million in measured media.

Whichever campaign wins out will be Y&R's second stab at a brand Martin, Ogilvy & Mather, JWT and Wieden & Kennedy each have tried and failed to revive in the past decade.

Category going flat
Some who've worked on MGD -- such as Joe Sciarrotta, the Ogilvy Chicago creative chief who handled the account in 2003, during Ogilvy's stint as agency of record -- say the problem is that MGD is a full-calorie domestic macro-brew, a category that has long declined. "It's not a marketing problem; it's a product problem," he said.
Genuine Spiral

But the brand has tended to underperform even its woeful peers, some of whom -- Coors Banquet and Miller High Life most recently -- have managed an occasional flat or marginally up year this decade, something that's eluded MGD.

Dennis Ryan, who led JWT's overtly sexual "Never miss a genuine opportunity" campaign and its watered-down follow-up effort, "Pure MGD" from 2000 to 2002, said Miller, which was then owned by Philip Morris, lacked the gumption to stand by an idea. "I worked on Anheuser-Busch brands for 13 years," Mr. Ryan wrote in an e-mail. "And once they made a decision, they supported it. They committed to it. To A-B, their business is personal. That was never my experience in Milwaukee."

In other words, maybe the new managers at SABMiller should heed the brand's 2003 tagline from Ogilvy: "Keep what's good."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this said that MGD had been through four agencies since 1991. It actually had four agencies since 2001.
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