Miller Hopes Its Time Is Now

The “Miller Time” slogan skipped a generation, but Miller Brewing executives are boosting spending and refocusing on core brands with a flood of new TV work in an effort to bring it back.

“There is brand equity in that phrase,” said Robert Mikulay, the Milwaukee brewer’s senior vice president of marketing. “We missed a genuine opportunity by not fully capitalizing on ‘Miller time.'”

Miller will boost its overall spending by 20 percent to more than $300 million this year, according to sources. Miller Lite will get a 35 percent lift from the $90 million spent last year. Miller Genuine Draft will be raised 38 percent from an estimated $25 million in 2000, Mikulay said.

Unlike past years, new work behind MGD and Miller Lite was generally well-received by distributors who watched about 60 TV spots last week at Miller’s meeting in Milwaukee. “I think it was the first time in 10 years that distributors walked away genuinely happy with the work,” one source who attended the meeting said.

In a direct counter to Anheuser-Busch’s “Heritage” campaign and Coors Brewing spots featuring Pete Coors, Miller unveiled its own “Brewery heritage” work [Adweek, April 23], which Miller Lite agency Ogilvy & Mather produced through Core in St. Louis, a member of its creative Syndicate. The spots feature actors portraying brewery workers who talk about their product. The campaign was ordered barely a month before spots were completed.

Continuing its efforts to lure younger drinkers through contemporary music, an MTV-style music video campaign that showcases Miller Lite, MGD and Miller High Life under the “Miller Time” rubric from Ogilvy breaks in May. In one, the band Uncle Kracker sings “I’m looking for a place where the sun still shines and the beer is all good if I got the time.”

Miller has struggled with its marketing message for several years, and efforts from agencies installed by former Kraft executives Mikulay and John Bowlin—Ogilvy for Miller Lite and J. Walter Thompson for MGD—have been generally uneven. One-time brewery flagship Miller Lite sales recently slipped behind Coors Light, making it third in the category led by Bud Light.

“The fix was bigger than we initially thought,” Mikulay acknowledged.

New MGD spots from JWT tone down the overt sexuality of previous work, although sex remains central to the agency’s “Never miss a genuine opportunity” campaign.

“Obviously, something had to be done across the board because the distributors were no longer patient,” said dennis Ryan, JWT Chicago’s executive creative director. “There is no doubt that the spots are tamer.”

In one 30-second spot for MGD called “Koo Koo Ka Choo,” a man stares at a bikini-clad woman who is applying suntan oil who then struggles to open a greased-up MGD bottle. He moves in to help only to leave her with the bottle cap and walk away with the beer.

For Miller Lite, Ogilvy produced 12 new spots for its “Grab a Miller Lite. It’s Miller Lite Time,” campaign. One 30-second execution features an aspiring Casanova who accidentally causes an attractive woman’s purse to burst into flames in an attempt to be suave. In a 15-second spot, currently airing, a guy wearing seven layers of clothing challenges three women to a game of strip poker. In the end, he is left with only his boxers on.

The one campaign that has hit the mark in recent years, Wieden + Kennedy’s work for Miller High Life, continues in the same macho vein, with a throaty narrator telling tales of real men living the High Life.

Miller takes a decidedly different tack with its responsible drinking work this year. Spots from Don Coleman Advertising in Detroit focus on the perils of having unfortunate sexual experiences through over imbibing, rather than on the traditional message about drinking and driving.

While JWT and Ogilvy may be closer to target with their latest work, Miller has turned elsewhere for new product assignments. Former Miller agency Young & Rubicam has been brought back into the fold to handle new products. The agency helped Miller launch Red Dog and Icehouse in the 1990s before exiting the roster two years ago during a Miller Lite review that left some bad feelings on both sides. But Y&R still has a number of connections to the brewery, including Chicago president and COO Kary McIlwain, who worked on the brand in the 1990s, as well as its status as a shop for Philip Morris’ Kraft division.