Here's what we said a week ago:
Here's what actually happened:
If only beer marketers were savvy enough to understand this simple truth: Buzz ain't biz.
Today's press brings the long-overdue, but welcome news that MillerCoors is casting a wider net for help on Miller Lite. Better late than never. In the spirit of helpfulness, here's our contribution.
What every marketer should demand from a strategy
Good marketing strategy aims to cause change in behavior favoring the marketer's brand. To do this, a strategic notion needs to arouse interest in the brand being advertised, anchored in some attractive truth about the marketer's product. This will delight loyal customers even as it creates some level of doubt about choosing any competing brand (either named or implied) not blessed with the same product truth. In the end, effective strategy will always be provocative.
Against these criteria, strategically speaking, Miller Lite has under-achieved for decades. While its business declined year after year, the brand brought no message to the market that aroused interest. (Swirly bottles, an extra can hole, and the retro white label at best deliver temporary bumps.) The brand provided no attractive truth about the beer. So, Lite hasn't seeded any doubt that other light-beer brands are somehow inferior. In fact, there has been nothing truly provocative said about America's first light beer for a long time, arguably since its launch run.
Miller Lite's single greatest business challenge now is developing and implementing an effective marketing strategy that addresses all this. Without such a strategy, "exciting new advertising" will soon disappoint. (Bud Light is embarked on just such a case-study.)
So that I can't be accused of just being negative--and to meet all the criteria outlined above--permit me to offer Miller Lite one possible brand strategy. There are certainly others.
An effective strategy for Miller Lite
Here's an interesting fact: Last year, Miller Lite sold very nearly as much beer as every craft brewer in the country put together. Nearly $2 billion worth. But it's not the size of the business that's most noteworthy. What's important is that guys chose to drink Miller Lite roughly 500 million times! With all the craft-beer buzz--to say nothing of two competing options from Big Beer in the form of Bud Light and Coors Light-- millions of guys chose Miller Lite. How come?
People always choose what they believe to be their best available option. Would a Miller Lite marketing guy ever tell the folks in this photograph they didn't make the best choice? Of course not. If our marketing guy could be transported into this scene, there'd be back-slapping, buying of rounds, and assurances that everybody had chosen the best beer ever!
And when one of the drinkers in that photo asks, "So, what makes Miller Lite the best?" our marketing guy needs an answer. One that rings true to these loyalists, one that is true to the beer, one that is provocative to drinkers of other light beers. The marketing guy's answer is the brand strategy.
Here's where our Miller Lite marketing guy should simply compliment the loyal customers on their beer choice... and hand out free glasses with the answer printed right on 'em...
The one consistent and unique element across Miller Lite's history has been some reference to taste. ("Less filling" became generic decades ago.) Replacing "great" with "more" elevates taste to a comparative. The facts will show "more taste" is an accurate statement, a truth about Miller Lite (as well as implicitly about its key competition). And the brand's "triple hops brewing" is logical, factual support. Of the three leading light beers, only Miller Lite actually delivers on this strategy. Its drinkers know this. Of course, competitive-brand light-beer drinkers will be provoked... as in "provocative."
What about craft beers? Their drinkers will be provoked, too. But in spite of all their opinionated buzz in social media, and the gaudy business trends of the self-proclaimed artisan brands, Miller Lite should simply ignore them. Beers that cost double what Miller Lite goes for--and admittedly offer even more taste, along with way more calories--are simply not the salient competition. Bud Light is a $6 billion brand. Bringing over, say, 10% of that volume to Miller Lite is where the focus needs to be.
One last bit of advice to our Miller Lite marketing guy: Tell those new agencies to show you their strategy on a bar glass, before they pull out their storyboards.
* Note: Certain video links may not function in emailed articles.
Dan Fox is a real beer guy.