Miller spots make the grade

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Agencies for Miller Brewing Co.'s leading brands finally can say "It's Miller Time." At least for now.

At its annual sales meeting in Milwaukee last week, Miller showed an unprecedented 30-plus new spots. In sharp contrast to previous years, wholesalers seemed genuinely excited about the work. The reception was a relief to WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Chicago, and Ogilvy & Mather, New York, agencies for Miller Genuine Draft and Miller Lite, respectively. An executive close to Miller had said that distributors' reaction to the work would "make or break" the relationship between the Philip Morris Cos.' brewer and the shops (AA, April 16).

While the 4,000 wholesalers were desperate for good Lite work, JWT was under particular pressure. Miller, in fact, hedged its bets and revived its relationship with WPP sibling Y&R Advertising, Chicago, said Miller insiders. Y&R will work on new products, but a Miller insider said he believes Y&R would have been MGD's new agency had the JWT work not done well. Another said the brewer wanted more options. "Miller Lite is a problem. [MGD at] Thompson was shaky. They needed another [large agency] just in case," an executive close to the brewer said.

Still themed "Never miss a genuine opportunity," the MGD effort is more lighthearted and less lusty. In one, a suntanning woman hands a poolboy her beer to open it-but he walks off with the beer.

One attendee said there was an audible sigh of relief from the crowd after the MGD work was shown, while another said distributors were pleased to see more of an emphasis on refreshment and music in the MGD campaign.

The ads were the largest stable at least since 1982, signifying Miller's confidence in the work. Miller spending could reach its highest point since the mid-'90s. The brewer said it would spend at least 20% more this year than last year's $191.4 million in measured media, as calculated by Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Ten ads were devoted to Miller Lite and again were themed "Grab a Lite. It's Miller Time."

Miller also showed Hispanic work for MGD and Lite; commercials for High Life and High Life Light; corporate branding spots; music-video-style ads and cheeky responsibility spots. Independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., handles High Life, while Don Coleman Advertising (partly owned by True North Communications), Southfield, Mich., created the responsibility ads that show the aftermath of a hard night's drinking. Ogilvy handled the corporate branding work. A Miller spokesman said the entire flight would run by late summer.

Contributing: Laura Q. Hughes and Laura Petrecca

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