Like lions, beer distributors have good memories. So they remember the pronouncements from the company's marketing leaders...
- A year ago, the marketing exec on stage sang the praises of the new ad agency he'd personally chosen for Miller Lite. He was all agog over the agency's Los Angeles home, calling it "the intersection of all great things: creativity, design, technology, entertainment, music...." (We thought he sounded starstruck.)
- Same guy announced Miller Lite had "come back to talking about the beer." (We asked: "Think real hard: Can you name something-- anything--Miller Lite has said about the beer recently?")
- And it was the marketing head who introduced Miller Lite's latest batch of bodega-guy ads. He was delighted when the advertising trade press gushed about their "relaxed, indie-film feel." (We noted the ads never once mentioned the Lite brand name in audio, were void of any product claim, and served only to (slightly) entertain the audience.)
Well, a year has passed and the distributors are rightly agitated. One of their largest revenue brands is still sick, and the latest guy on stage is supposed to know how to cure it. But so far he's only been party to the most recent in an embarrassingly long string of ineffective Miller Lite ad campaigns.
So what's this marketing guy to do? How's he going to find ads that actually sell more beer?
It appears from press reports that he's joined the ranks of those who have chosen poorly. His gambit? Add several more network agencies to "help out," in the hope better work will come from greater numbers of creative people on the task. It's reminiscent of the old bromide that if enough monkeys are turned loose on typewriters, given sufficient time, one of them will write a great novel. Of course, there's never been such a novel. Similarly, producing effective advertising isn't about unleashing more monkeys, er, creative folks.
Miller Lite's real problem
Two years ago when MillerCoors had just appointed yet another new (but soon-to-be-replaced) ad agency, we said: "Miller Lite's advertising problem is the lack of an effective strategy." It still is.
Our advice back then remains the same today:
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.
So, because we're unlikely to be invited to the distributor convention, here are three strategy questions we'd direct to the stage if we were there. And we'd want answers before they dimmed the lights and showed a single ad:
First, what will the ads dramatize that is special and distinctive about Miller Lite beer?
Second, are you certain Lite's current drinkers agree this element of distinctiveness is accurate; and prospective customers will find it provocative enough for them to consider trying the brand?
Third, have you, Mr. Top Marketing Exec--you personally not your legion of ad agencies--signed off as the sponsor of the strategy?
Place your bets
The distributors are betting their personal fortunes on the success of the Miller Lite ads... again. They have every right to expect advertising that sells beer, to say nothing of actually mentioning the brand's name.
But unless and until they are presented with an effective advertising strategy focused on the distinctiveness of Miller Lite beer, these lions of the beer business really will be betting on monkeys.