Miller Time Ends, Begins Anew

WPP Shops Prove Once Again That Connections Are Everything
CHICAGO–It’s trite but true that the ad business is all about relationships, and last week brought more evidence.
No creative presentations or full-blown pitches preceded the shift of Miller Lite’s $100 million business to Ogilvy & Mather in New York and Miller Genuine Draft’s $55 million task to J. Walter Thompson here.
John Bowlin, former Kraft president and now head of the Milwaukee brewer, and Robert Mikulay, who went from selling Marlboros to Miller as senior vice president of marketing, took a familiar road, choosing big, global, integrated marketing agencies over smaller, creatively driven shops Fallon McElligott in Minneapolis (Miller Lite), and Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. (MGD).
Quirky campaigns from both shops won some awards, but failed to increase sales. “The creative boutique just wasn’t going to cut it anymore,” said a source at a new Miller shop.
The directive to the new agencies is simple: “We want to do this once and we want to do it right,” Miller executives told their shops. They do not have the luxury of patience.
Among those at Ogilvy wooing Miller executives were chief executive officer Shelly Lazarus and Rick Roth, senior partner and worldwide client services director, who will oversee the Lite business Ogilvy’s creative team will be led by David Apicella and Jeroun Bours, who have worked on Ogilvy’s award-winning campaign for American Express. The Dutch-born Apicella’s appetite for the Miller business had co-workers referring to him as the agency’s “beer guy.”
Ogilvy likened its chore ahead on Lite to similar experiences with other stale brands. “We’ve been revitalizing tired, old brands and that’s the challenge,” said one executive. “We’ve done it with IBM, we’ve done it with American Express, Kodak, Maxwell House. There’s a history here.”
At JWT, worldwide chief executive Chris Jones led the charge. Other key players included Ron Burns, global account director on Kraft, who splits his time between Chicago and New York; JWT Chicago president Brian Heffernan, and Dennis Ryan, the executive creative director here, who served as lead creative on Anheuser-Busch for several years at DDB. Earlier this year, Ryan hired DDB’s Bob Merlotti, another A-B account veteran; the pair will now team to lead creative efforts on Genuine Draft.
Charlotte Beers, JWT’s new chairman charged with bolstering new business, did not play a role in the chase, sources said.
Bowlin and Mikulay joined Miller in April, and sources speculated then that the pair would soon bring in agencies they knew better. “Management there had a real good idea of what they
wanted to do,” said an executive at one of the new agencies.
Both executives are familiar with their new shops through other Philip Morris assignments. JWT handles Kraft’s salad dressings, cheeses and brand equity, while Ogilvy has Maxwell House coffee, Country Time lemonade and last year was awarded $100 million in additional business, including Post’s adult cereal lines and Kool-Aid.
Fallon learned it was off Miller Lite on Tuesday, only hours after selling through two new spots that are scheduled to air next month. Agency chairman Pat Fallon said the shop
didn’t have advance notice from Miller that Lite was out the door.
“We weren’t warned, but at the same time, we’re not naive,” he said. Fallon said he did not plan any layoffs.
Last week, Fallon defended the controversial “Dick” campaign as necessary for the brand. “If anybody believed that a business-as-usual solution was the answer, they were misinformed,” he said. But he did admit some of the executions have been missteps. “We’ve had some remarkably good work for them, and we’ve made some mistakes,” Fallon said.
In fact, Fallon successfully defended the business in January in a review few thought it would win, considering the growing dislike at the client of “Dick.” Square One in Dallas, Young & Rubicam in New York and Wieden also contended.
Fallon’s latest campaign was a throwback to Miller’s “All-Star” work, which Bowlin embraced in his first stint as Miller president in the mid-1990s. “We have two new spots that will reflect where it could have gone,” Fallon said. “Like any new campaign, it needed time to develop.”
Wieden learned it was off Miller Genuine Draft equally abruptly. “Clearly, we knew the brand was in trouble. We weren’t able to reverse sales,” said chief operating officer Dave Luhr. “But we worked with them as hard as we could.”
Luhr also said there will be no layoffs at its Portland headquarters. Employees working on MGD will be shifted to other businesses at the shop.
It’s work strayed from traditional beer ads, aiming toward a hip, 20-something target. But problems came to a head when distributors booed Wieden’s MGD work at a March convention. That prompted Miller to direct the agency to go back and reshoot the two 30-second TV spots.
Using the tagline, “Put a keg in your hand,” the new work highlighting the draft beer in a bottle finally broke in June to mixed reviews. It has been considered a temporary solution for MGD, whose sales have also been flat .
Wieden retains ad duties for the estimated $15-20 million Miller High Life brand. Media remains at Leo Burnett’s Starcom U.S.A. unit in Chicago.
Miller Timeline
12/16/96 Creative duties on Miller Lite handed to Fallon; Miller Genuine Draft goes to Wieden & Kennedy, sans review.
1/13/97 “Dick,” the quirky creative superstar, debuts in Lite ads dubbed “Miller Time.” Ads run two years; earn a trio of gold Lions at Cannes in June 1998.
11/9/98: Miller calls in other agencies for help on Lite. MGD not in review, but ads are being “retooled.”
1/25/99: Fallon prevails against all odds, but Dick is dead. New ads in March update famed “All-Stars” campaign. “The great taste of a true pilsner.”
4/12/99: Miller cleans house, fires CEO John McDonough and marketing vp Jack Rooney. John Bowlin and four Kraft Foods executives are installed to shore up struggling brands.
5/31/99: After many delays, MGD ads bow. “Put a keg in your hand.”
7/27/99: Lite shifted to Ogilvy, New York; MGD moves to JWT in Chicago.