Miller Lite Searches for the Right Campaign Theme

One of the most memorable and successful advertising campaigns of all times was the "Tastes Great, Less Filling" theme for Miller Lite beer, which began in 1974. The campaign used humorous commercials featuring famous (and not-so-famous) ex-athletes and other celebrities arguing over whether the brand's main appeal was its great taste or the fact that it contained fewer calories than regular beer and was less filling. The campaign ran for 17 years and helped make Miller Lite the second-best-selling beer in the United States for many years, as well as making light beer a legitimate segment of the beer market.

In the late 80s, Miller began taking the campaign in a new direction, and the ads began moving away from the use of ex-athletes. Although the tagline was still being used,the executions started using rock bands, old movie and party scenes, the Miller Lite girls, and other images in order to appeal to a broader and younger market. Miller Lite was also facing strong competition in the light-beer market from other brands such as Bud Light and Coors Light. Despite not entering the market until 1982, Anheuser-Busch had developed Bud Light into a strong brand and Coors Light had replaced the flagship brand as the company's best-selling product. By the early 90s, Miller Lite was continuing to lose market share and the company decided to drop the "Tastes great, Less Filling" campaign. What followed was a six-year odyssey of advertising flip-flops that included adolescent humor and far-out wit to chase young male beer drinkers. Spots featuring cowboys singing good-bye to their beer on the way to the bathroom didn't help sell a lot of Miller Lite.

In early 1999 Miller dusted off the 24-year-old formula of having people debate the merits of the brand. The new ad theme, "The Great Taste of a True Pilsner Beer," pitted celebrities against one another in mock arguments over whether Miller Lite tastes great because its smooth or because of its choice hops. Miller marketing people felt the celebrity-bickering approach would work a second time because the new campaign was different from the original ads. In the new campaign there was no more talk about "less filling," since this claim had lost its uniqueness as other light beers appeared. The ads focused on Miller Lite's taste and ingredients, which is what the company felt really mattered to beer drinkers. This campaign lasted less than a year: Miller switched agencies as well as ad themes and revived the 30-year-old "Miller Time" tagline that was used in the 1970s for the Miller High Life brand. The new ads, from the Ogilvy & Mather agency, modified the theme to "Grab a Miller Lite. It's Miller Time" and featured guys bonding over beer, sexy women, and humorous vignettes. They showed friends doing things and enjoying their time together and focused on the ritual and camaraderie of having a beer. The agency's creative director noted: "When we get down to the heart and soul of the brand, it's always been about the occasion and the time guys spend together—the banter and the real talk."

In 2002 the agency took the bonding concept in a slightly different direction with a new campaign for Miller Lite featuring ads that focus on real consumer insights and storytelling. The commercials open with a flashback to an embarrassing moment and end showing the embarrassed person telling the story. For example, one of the ads begins with a couple in a car, each with something he or she wants to discuss. The young man talks first, telling the woman he doesn't want to marry her. She then tells him that she won millions in the lottery. The commercial ends with the man telling the story to friends while playing pool and, afterward, one of the friends sneaking off to phone the woman for a date. Each ad closes with the slogan "Life is best told over a great-tasting Miller Lite at a place called Miller Time." Print executions also focus on the theme of friends getting together to enjoy a Miller Lite.

The new Miller Lite ads have been received very favorably by Miller beer distributors and by consumers. Some critics have argued that, with the storyteller ads, Miller has created one of its most popular campaigns since "Tastes Great, Less Filling." A Miller executive notes: "This whole storytelling metaphor is very powerful. Consumers tell us, 'This is how I drink beer with my friends.'" Of course, the company hopes that the new ads ensure that Miller Lite is the brand consumers are drinking when they get together with their friends.

Sources: Michael McCarthy,"Miller Turns to Classic Strategy," USA TODAY, Aug. 5,2002, p. 2B; Sally Beatty,"Philip Morris Taps Old Formula to Help Boost Miller Lite Brand," The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 15,1999, p.B5.

Miller Lite 1999

Like any other area of the marketing and promotional process, the creative aspect of advertising and the development of the campaign theme is guided by specific goals and objectives. A creative strategy that focuses on what must be communicated will guide the selection of the campaign theme and the development of all messages used in the ad campaign. The creative strategy is based on several factors, including identification of the target audience; the basic problem, issue, or opportunity the advertising must address; the major selling idea or key benefit the message needs to communicate; and any supportive information that needs to be included in the ad. Once these factors are determined, a creative strategy statement should describe the message appeal and execution style that will be used. Many ad agencies outline these elements in a document known as the copy or creative platform.

Figure 8-4 Copy platform outline

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  • Jessamine
    Who are the women in the best told at a place called miller time print ad?
    8 years ago

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