As Molson slides, Miller puts McKenzie ads on ice

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Alarmed by continued sales declines of its Molson imports, Miller Brewing Co. has bid farewell to a national TV campaign that starred the fictional, comic McKenzie Brothers as spokesmen for the Canadian brews.

A new regional outdoor effort will emphasize product shots, and radio spots will revolve around a fictional Canadian radio station called CCAN. The commercials feature characters praising the various Molson brands.

Miller decided to shift gears because the 2-year-old national TV effort (featuring the "brothers"--played by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis--who first appeared on the 1980s comedy TV show "SCTV") wasn't working.

"The reality is the Molson business didn't grow last year or the year before," said Rich Lalley, director-marketing for Molson. Continuing the McKenzie campaign "in face of business performance below our expectations didn't make sense."


Rival Canadian import Labatt Blue posted double-digit growth in 1998, knocking off Molson Ice as the third-best-selling import and best-selling beer from Canada, according to industry newsletter Impact.

Labatt Blue now outsells Molson Ice by more than 1 million cases. Molson Golden also fell, while the smaller Molson Canadian brand grew by about 30%, according to Impact.

Miller is planning to build Molson Canadian as the brand family's lead label.

Miller spent $7.9 million on the brands through the first nine months of 1998, more than half of this on network or cable TV, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Spending was down 15% from the same period in 1997.

The interim ads, which broke earlier this month in areas of the Northeast and Michigan, were created by Y&R Advertising, New York, which recently lost the Miller business. The ads are expected to run for much of 1999.

Molson is now assigned to Square One, Dallas. Miller wouldn't comment on what the creative direction will be under the new agency.


Meanwhile, Miller subsidiary Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. is in the early stages of an agency review. Its brands formerly were handled by Y&R's Chicago office.

The craft brewer is looking at shops based in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, said Dick Leinenkugel, VP-sales and marketing.

Leinenkugel plans to run a radio and print effort created by Y&R for the bulk of this year. Most of its ad weight is being put behind its 4-year-old Honey Weiss brand.

Copyright February 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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