Thursday, May 12, 2016

Foaming At The Mouth

For decades Anheuser-Busch poured out marketing genus. Lately maybe not so much.

When Miller introduced Lite beer in the late 70's for a few short years Miller sold more beer than A-B. It was short lived. That sales spike was marketing genius on behalf of Miller to introduce their new product in humorous television ads featuring retired pro sports celebrities.

It was unconventional at the time to ask a male beer drinker to consider swilling a watered-down version of Miller High Life. But those Tastes Great Less Filling ads just worked. For male beer drinkers this translated into "You mean I can now drink more beer than ever before"?

For those too young to remember…

Eventually A-B devoted big $$ to grind Miller Lite to an also ran by introducing their own Bud Light in their own unconventional television ads featuring the likes of a homely dog. They tapped into the beach culture. And a lot of female flesh.

In 1987 I was working for an ad agency with Miller Brewing as a client. The Lite All-Stars were being phased out. Miller and ad agency strategists discovered those ads were growing tired and appealed to an older generation of beer swillers, not the M/A to 24 year old market they were after. They were on to something. It was too late. A-B beat them to it with Bud Light.

As a sidebar the unspoken truth in beer marketing is the term M/A (minimum age) to 24. While they used M/A to define their market M/A referred to the first time a user took their first drink so in effect 18,16 or even 14 was the age referred to. It was believed the first beer one drank would build a lifelong dedicated customer relationship. This is why brewers always go after the youngest market they can legally get away with.

For a years we created ads, posters and liquor store displays featuring photos of bikini beach chicks (T&A). It was a rough job but we managed. Many other unconventional marketing tactics were explored. For a short time sales of the new Miller Genuine Draft brand surged but the battle was over for good.

Both brewers expanded into sports as never before. Both began fighting over sponsorship of NASCAR, NFL, MLB and other professional as well as "junk" sports as we called them. The big marketing money went to sponsorship and stadium pour ownership rights, that became the new marketing battleground. Deals were cut with sports leagues that never existed before. Sports marketing agencies opened specializing in sports relationships and that segment in advertising became a huge business. This occurred in the late 80's and into the 90's.

Miller Lite never regained the position of the #1 beer sold in America considering they were the pioneer in focusing on pro sports to sell beer. When Miller wasn't looking A-B ate their lunch. Always considered the big two brewers in sales another concept beyond their knowledge was fermenting and would soon cut into all domestic beer sales.

Import brewers snuck in to cut sales for both companies. Soon microbrew and eventually brew pubs nipped at their collective monopoly. At first young drinkers used imports as status symbols at college parties holding those brands to separate themselves from the ordinary. What happened? The M/A drinker often drank an import as their first beer. Many developed a taste for a full malt, highly hopped and darker colored brew the domestics failed to offer. Status seeking young moderns shunned domestic brands entirely and most would never drink domestic beer again.

For the past decade domestic brewers have used packaging gimmicks to sway a purchase decision in their market segment. Cans that change color when cold, bottles made of aluminum and reintroducing retro package design were a few but to me the most blatant packaging change is renaming a famous brand.

A-B is no longer the domain of the Busch family who played a very active role in marketing their products. They were keepers of the flame not only on traditional but unconventional beer marketing and threw lot of money at it. Until they were taken over by a foreign owner. Does this mean A-B changed from being Anhueser-Busch To America Beer? They claim it is for a limited time.

Another sidebar. When I was in that business it was well known that Bud's largest and hardest to crack market for Miller was southern and western states. Changing the name now may appeal to their long time patriotic (older) customers but I doubt it will make a difference for others to give it a try.

Changing the brand name of a century old famous domestic beer is unconventional marketing to the extreme if even for a limited period of time. Seems this is a desperate move. Too little too late to save Ol' Bud. I am sure sales will fall flat.


Dan from Madison said...

I was always partial to Johnson, myself:
Natty Light (at least that is what the younguns call it these days) has made a sorta kinda comeback, around these parts.

Carl from Chicago said...

Great post Gerry. You were in the thick of it back when branding and advertising was fun. You would have a great list of 25 stories about work if you ever put it together.

Did you ever post about the beer you brewed? That was awesome (at least to an undiscerning palate like mine).