Miller loses 'Catfight,' buzz doesn't lift Lite

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SABMiller's Miller Brewing Co. will retire its "Catfight" series after the final episode with actress Pamela Anderson breaks this week, as the company searches for advertising thatn spurs sales rather than just creates buzz.

"Pillow Fight," which shows the barely dressed Ms. Anderson joining two other scantily clad women in a pillow fight, will run on late-night network and late-night ESPN, a Miller spokesman said. It likely will run for six to eight weeks, depending on the summer buy. This will be the first time that ad will air.

The spot will run concurrently with one of the existing "Catfight" spots in which a man imagines himself into a "Catfight" scene only to have his female sparring partner replaced with a man. That will run on network sports programming such as the National Basketball Association games and Nascar.

The ads-focused on two sexy women fighting and shedding clothing over whether Miller Lite tastes great or is less filling-led to conversations from TV land to Main Street. The work, by WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, launched in January.


When controversy erupted over the first "Catfight" spot, Miller was giddy. It had been a long time since any of its declining brands had people talking. The problem is that while many were talking about the Catfighters, few were buying Miller Lite, opting for rivals Bud Light and Coors Light instead. Miller Lite shipments fell 3% to 15.6 million barrels in 2003, while the country's top 10 beers rose 1.3%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

"Awareness is not the problem, but actual consideration is the problem and challenge and opportunity," said Miller President Norman Adami said in a conference call with analysts. "We want to ensure that the spend we put behind the brand is leading toward actual consideration and not just continuing to build awareness."

Miller spent $120 million in media in 2002 on Miller Lite, according to TNS Media Intelligence/ CMR.

Barring a complete sea change in thinking, the Catfighers will not return in the fall, when the struggling brewery plans a blanket campaign for its Miller trademark as well as new work for other key brands including Lite, Miller Genuine Draft and Miller High Life.

SABMiller CEO Graham MacKay said Miller's brand positioning over the last few years had been not "credible ... nor consistent."

assessing creative

"Consistent communications will be essential, and they have not been [present] in the recent past," Mr. MacKay said, predicting it would take two to three years for Miller to reverse course. He said Miller is working with agencies to assess creative.

In addition to Ogilvy, agencies pitching ideas are WPP's J. Walter Thompson, Young & Rubicam and independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. One person said Miller is soliciting ideas from another unnamed agency, but that could not be confirmed. Another person said ideas from Ogilvy and Y&R were especially well-received.

"They're all focused on October," the second person said.

Among changes being pondered: taking the "Miller" name off Miller High Life and another packaging overhaul, according to several people familiar with Miller.

"They can focus on advertising, but there are a lot of other fundamentals that need to be addressed in next fall's launch" including packaging, public relations and leveraging of sports and entertainment properties," said the second person.

As such, Mr. Adami said Miller continues to restructure and reorganize. Mr. MacKay said there would be more of a management shakeup than originally hoped. This comes on the heels of lingering talk of layoffs at the company's headquarters, with expectations they would have occurred by mid-May. The Miller spokesman said staff reductions do not mean layoffs.

Since July, when South African Breweries bought Miller, domestic volume fell 6%. Mr. MacKay said Miller's problems were "probably more deep-seated" than originally thought, but that would not have affected South African Breweries' decision to buy Miller from Philip Morris Cos.

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