Miller to reposition MGD as 30-something brew

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Looking for a more mature beer? Miller Genuine Draft may be just the ticket.

Miller Brewing Co., trying to lift sales of the third-largest brand in its portfolio, is taking the surprising step of looking past greenhorn drinkers to target older adults in a coming campaign. The brewer, part of SABMiller, plans to aim past the 21- to-24-year-old party animal to position Genuine Draft as a quality beer for 30-ish drinkers, according to executives familiar with the effort.

The direction is a challenging one, considering that imported brews have staked out the quality positioning and full-calorie domestic beers have declined as light brews grow. "It's very difficult to get growth in big brands in the U.S. that are not in the light segment because there is basically nothing going on in the domestic [business] other than the light business," SABMiller CEO Graham Mackay said in an analysts call last November.

But it's clear Miller needs to do something fast to fix Genuine Draft. Shipments hit a peak of 7.4 million barrels in 1993, according to Beer Marketers' Insights, but tumbled to 4.15 million barrels last year-down nearly 1 million since SABMiller bought it.

Continued decline

Efforts, including ads pitting Genuine Draft against Budweiser, haven't arrested long-running declines for a brew introduced in 1985. Miller Genuine Draft has "been a thorn in [Miller's] side," said Benj Steinman, publisher and editor of industry newsletter Beer Marketers' Insights. "It's continued to decline."

Since being acquired by South African Breweries in 2002, the company has turned around Miller Lite by positioning it as a challenger to Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light, playing up the taste and low-carb count of Lite vs. Bud Light. It's made drastic moves with other brands as well.

The brewer recently dropped the tough-talking Miller High Life man campaign in favor of the copy-heavy, ruminative, female-narrated Girl in the Moon campaign via Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. And it's employing Maxim-style humor-and the first national TV in seven years-for Milwaukee's Best Light. TV work from Mother, New York, features giant cans falling from the sky and crushing men who show their softer sides.

"We're very much focused on different marketing within the beer category," said a Miller spokesman. "We fundamentally believe there's a lot of sameness in beer marketing."

The spokesman wouldn't provide details about the Miller Genuine Draft work, scheduled to break later this year from The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., part of Interpublic Group of Cos. Martin prevailed in a review over WPP Group's Y&R, Chicago, MDC Group's Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, and independent Mother, New York. None of the agencies would comment.

The Genuine Draft plan follows SABMiller's warning earlier this month that volume to retailers fell 0.3% in the six months ended Sept. 30 despite higher sales of Miller Lite. Not only is the beer industry as a whole losing out to wine and spirits, lower prices and higher costs have driven down profits as leader Anheuser-Busch slashes prices to maintain market share.

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