Miller: another round of raunch

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Miller Brewing Co. will take raunchy marketing to a new extreme in the coming months-and toss in some French bashing as well.

A fresh slate of ads that delighted 500 distributors at SABMiller's annual convention in Las Vegas last week were crammed with catfighters, sexy storytelling and odes to the common man. The spots were all created by WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather and independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and many are expected to break on the NCAA basketball tournament this week.

Absent was any work from WPP's J. Walter Thompson, agency of record for Miller Genuine Draft, expected to be given notice by fall unless it comes up with an 11th-hour save, according to people familiar with the matter ( QwikFIND aao51t).

A Miller spokesman last week maintained there had been no change in MGD's agency situation, and a JWT spokesman insisted there would be no shift.

Those close to Miller said the brewer is adopting a concentrated strategy to be as naughty as possible to stand out against better-funded Anheuser-Busch. Miller last year spent $230.5 million on measured media, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, while the St. Louis leader laid out $425.1 million.

"It's tough to be clever when no one pays attention to you," said one executive familiar with the plans. "We have to fight dirty to keep what's ours." The company did not return calls for comment regarding its strategy.

multiple fronts

Miller is ratcheting up the raciness "on all fronts" said one meeting participant, in both advertising and promotion. It has already stoked controversy with an execution of buxom women wrestling in wet concrete for Miller Lite. But Miller hasn't had its fill: Several more versions are on the way, some with continuing lesbian overtones and one showing a bare-chested man getting publicly spanked by a bra-busting babe.

There is a Spanish version from Latinworks, Austin, Texas. Also on the way are plans for shrink-wrap packaging featuring the Catfighters; "Catfight" spoofs; and a new "pillow fight" execution with former "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson. The last has several possible endings because some are so hot-to-handle that Miller is concerned the networks may not run them, according to people familiar with the effort. The one seen by distributors has Ms. Anderson interrupting the bosomy brawlers pillow fighting to ask, "Can I get in on this?"

Miller in February ran a Playboy spin-the-bottle game, and it has a Lite centerfold and six-page pullout in Time Inc.'s current Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

There are some 10 new spots for Lite, including comedic "Storyteller" ads. In one, a guy watching an Evander Holyfield fight says he would take on the boxer for a million dollars-only to find himself in the ring and his head literally knocked off his shoulders with one punch.

Miller Genuine Draft is using a "Keep What's Good" tagline in its "Pure" campaign to play up the brand's cold-filtering process while tapping into sexuality the brand long has employed. Genuine Draft ads urge to "keep what's good," demonstrated in one execution where a man scrolling down female names on his cellphone chooses one to call. As she answers, the camera pulls back to show her in bed with him. Ogilvy, Chicago, created the MGD spots, while the New York office did the Miller Lite commercials.

Miller High Life continues its pitch to manly blue-collar types in spots from Wieden. In a timely jab, Miller is reprising an ad that first ran in 1998 and flogs the French. In the commercial, the gravely voiced commentator notes that "It's hard to respect the French when you have to bail them out of two big ones in one century. But we have to hand it to them on mayonnaise. Nice job, Pierre."

patriotic play

A new High Life ad also plays on patriotism, with a man riding a bicycle home from the grocery store, High Life bottles clinking in his basket and snow swirling around. "That's the way, patriot," says the voice-over. "Let the OPECs keep their gasoline. ... If we all learn to pull our weight, nobody-nobody-will be able to siphon away our high life."

Wholesalers seemed pleased with the campaigns. One Midwestern distributor credited the first "Catfight" spot that broke in January with double-digit growth that month. The work "really resonated with wholesalers," said another attendee. "It's the biggest acceptance of creative that I've seen in the last five years."

contributing: kate macarthur and alice z. cuneo

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