Miller tries wit over grit to revive flagging MGD

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The highly anticipated first commercials for Miller Genuine Draft from J. Walter Thompson USA will make their debut in January during the National Football League playoffs.

Parent Miller Brewing Co. and the Chicago agency are set to begin filming on two to four spots next month. While still mum about the tagline, Miller executives will use humor to reconnect with beer guzzlers they alienated over the past three years, according to people familiar with the strategy.

MGD's clear bottle will also be more prominent in the new work.

Members of the MGD brand team and executives of JWT briefed West Coast distributors on the ad strategy last week.


The January launch makes it all but certain JWT will beat sibling WPP Group shop Ogilvy & Mather, New York, in the race to get new Miller creative on the air. Ogilvy handles Lite. Both agencies were hired in July without a review after Miller dumped Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis.

Combined spending on Miller's brands is about $217 million per year.

The JWT campaign--which in addition to TV will include radio and out-of-home media--will target the same twentysomething male consumer Wieden took aim at in its MGD campaigns. But in a sharp departure from Wieden's gritty work, JWT will rely on middle-of-the-road humor to appeal to consumers.

"The old advertising was geared toward the very young people with nose rings and things like that, and I think what you will see with this is more mainstream," said one distributor briefed by Miller.


Another executive familiar with the new work said it will target a "more contemporary Bud or Bud Light drinker.

"They believe the MGD drinker is more confident, more open to change than the Bud or Bud Light drinker," he said. "In many ads, they appear to be afraid of women, where a woman is a person to be tricked out of her beer. MGD [is targeting] an evolution of that."

The attention being paid to Bud and Bud Light drinkers isn't surprising; the two creatives--Dennis Ryan and Bob Merlotti--overseeing MGD creative for JWT cut their teeth on the beer brands while at DDB Worldwide, Chicago.

JWT referred calls to Miller, which did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

"MGD once was a confident, aggressive beer, and it kind of lost its way. [They] want to get back into that. It's all about regaining confidence and assurance and pride in the product," said an executive familiar with MGD.

While in California last week, a large contingent from JWT and the brand team met with distributors, worked on strategy and rode along on sales calls.

They told wholesalers the new ads would have a more concentrated focus on Hispanics, who comprise about half the population in southern California, a key MGD market along with the Midwest.

"Hispanics drink a lot of beer. [Miller executives] need to be targeting that audience and putting together a program around that target along with the mainstream, where you don't alienate the other part of the target audience," the executive said.

The Milwaukee brewer also has told wholesalers it will spend significant money as it looks to a "very comprehensive plan that really targets the [Genuine Draft] consumer, all the way from the national level to the retailer. It's going to be the all-inclusive marketing that's been missing," a distributor said.


If the advertising doesn't work, MGD could lose its No. 7 standing in supermarkets to Miller's discounted High Life within a year, according to Information Resources Inc., which measured grocery store sales for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 10. MGD sales for the period fell nearly 1% and outsold High Life by just 100,000 cases. MGD's share of the market fell from 3% in 1997 to 2.9% in 1998, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

"The couple of previous campaigns were a flop," a distributor said. "They've got to make this work."

Copyright November 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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