Molson Beer Tops Miller Brewing’s Fix-It List

Marketing, Packaging First Aid on Tap; Square One Preps Fall Ads
NEW YORK – Miller Brewing, coming off another soft year for Canada’s Molson beer during an import boom, has put the label near the top of the list of brands to be fixed, while grappling with packaging problems that have hindered availability entering the prime selling season.
In addition, a new advertising campaign from Square One in Dallas is expected by the fall.
Wholesalers said that while a series of Molson can and bottle problems have hurt, they were heartened to hear that the brand is recognized by Miller Brewing’s new executive team as being in dire need of help. “They’ve finally admitted that Molson is broken, has a huge problem and needs to be turned around,” one wholesaler said.
For wholesalers in the Northeast in particular, where erosion of Miller’s core brands has been most severe, the Molson and Foster’s imports hold unusual importance. Molson declined 5 percent to 20 million cases in 1998, versus rival Labatt’s 16 percent gain to nearly 15 million cases, per Impact Databank of New York.
Most recently, a “potential packaging issue” with 12-ounce long-neck nonreturnables, per an internal memo, “may have a quality control impact on all bottled beer produced in Canada from April 1 through May 25,” except for that brewed in Vancouver, B.C.
A Miller rep said the memo reflected a rigorous adherence to quality-assurance standards but did not augur a serious effect on sales. As for the broader issues, “the new team has certainly been trying to engulf themselves in everything that encompasses Miller Brewing Company, and Molson is certainly a big part of it.”
New agency Square One, which also handles the Icehouse and Red Dog brands under the Miller umbrella, aims to have new creative ready by year’s end. Billings for the Molson and Icehouse brands are estimated at $15 million combined.
Prior agency Young & Rubicam, New York, had created an amusing campaign that some faulted for undermining the import’s premium status. Reassignments came after an evaluation of Miller’s entire agency roster that actually changed little in terms of responsibilities: Miller Lite remained at Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, and Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., retained Miller Genuine Draft. – Gerry Khermouch
and staff reports