More Shops Join the Hunt for ‘Millerness’

Brewer looks beyond roster for ideas on how to unify U.S. brands

Miller Brewing Co.’s agencies have got company. The brewer’s search for a unifying positioning for its brand portfolio in the U.S.—a process previously limited to roster shops—has been expanded to include nonroster agencies in the U.S. and the U.K., said sources.

Four or five nonroster shops have been briefed and asked to present ideas on what the Miller brand represents, said a source. At press time, the identities of those agencies could not be ascertained.

The exercise had been limited to J. Walter Thompson (which handles Miller Genuine Draft, Foster’s), Ogilvy & Mather (Miller Lite, MGD), Wieden + Kennedy (Miller High Life) and Young & Rubicam (new products). The goal is to come up with a strategic platform or rallying cry for “Millerness” that would not replace advertising for individual brands but would unify them under a more coherent brand attitude or spirit.

Miller’s decision to expand the search suggests it still hasn’t found what it’s looking for. Of the ideas pitched by the four U.S. roster shops, the client liked just one concept, one source said. It was unclear which agency presented that idea.

“We are working with a variety of agencies to look at what the brand Miller means, how we bring greater definition to the Miller name,” said Scott Bussen, director of marketing communications at Miller in Milwaukee. Bussen declined to identify the agencies or even indicate if some are off the roster.

The brand-portfolio drill, which Miller has focused on for several months, appears to be the priority for now, despite ongoing “jump-balls” among roster agencies for individual brands assignments, such as Foster’s. Late last year, multiple roster shops presented ideas on Foster’s, and those ideas continue to be tested.

Miller realizes it needs a solid overall strategic foundation to increase brand relevance and close the gap on category leader Anheuser-Busch in terms of market share, said sources. Last year, A-B brands claimed 50.4 percent of the market, while Miller clocked in at 19.2 percent, according to Davenport Equity Research. Coors was No. 3, at 11.2 percent.

“The big picture is, this is a good thing,” said a source. “It’s an iconic American brand that deserves an exercise like this, because they haven’t had it for years.”

The consistent brand attitude that Miller is seeking is along the lines of what Apple does in unifying its advertising for different products (iMac, iMusic, etc.) around a similar look, feel and voice, added the source.

The drill comes nearly a year after South African Breweries purchased Miller Brewing Co. for $3.4 billion, creating SABMiller.

The client executives involved in the process include Bob Mikulay, evp of marketing for the U.S., who is based in Milwaukee, and Mark Sherrington, global marketing director for SABMiller in London. Sherrington, a former Unilever marketing executive, has become more actively involved recently, said a source.

Also in the picture is business consultancy McKinsey & Co., which is believed to be offering advice on different facets of the company’s operations, including brand strategy, said sources. A Miller rep said, “McKinsey has been working with us on a variety of strategic initiatives,” but declined to offer specifics. Executives at McKinsey declined comment, citing client confidentiality.

One brand, Miller High Life, may not be grouped under any master strategy that emerges. Some Miller executives feel the product is distinct enough to be marketed on its own. In fact, the company has talked about dropping “Miller” from the High Life name, according to a source.

Miller spent nearly $250 million last year on major media in the U.S., according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Anheuser-Busch spent about $400 million. Coors spent nearly $200 million.