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Miller Lite’s accidental success: Why it won’t last

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little good luck.

Indeed, “Better lucky than smart” could be the most apt business truth ever. Still, business leaders rarely acknowledge the role of good luck in the successes that occur on their watch. Oddly, when things go poorly, the same guys are quick to blame bad luck – everything from unseasonal weather to the price of aluminum – for what’s gone wrong.

A lucky accident

That’s why the recent short run – only one fiscal quarter’s worth – of modest volume gains for Miller Lite was refreshing. Because early on, MillerCoors basically admitted the whole thing amounted to a lucky accident.

The return to the can graphics associated with Lite’s early days was originally supposed to be a brief promotion. Chances are, no senior marketing people had much, if anything, to do with it. At the time, it probably seemed no more important than deciding what shade of green should be on the St. Patrick’s Day promotional shamrocks.

Then unexpectedly, this package-change captured the attention of beer drinkers, and they began choosing the brand more often. Not accustomed to success on the brand, distributors seized on this bit of good fortune, and pushed Lite harder at retail. They also pushed MillerCoors to get fully behind the idea, and soon every possible Miller Lite package and point-of-sale promotional piece wore the new-old graphic look.

But that substantial changeover is now last year’s news. The beer-selling season ahead won’t see the same package-based excitement at the retail shelf. So what’s being planned for this summer to sustain the volume growth?

The early signs are pretty underwhelming.

Here’s the big insight the MillerCoors marketing leaders presented to their distributor network to propel the brand this summer…

Having seen Miller Lite routinely make inexplicable judgement calls, the distributor response was probably something like this…

How a beer distributor might react upon hearing the new Miller Lite direction

Why the face?

Have you ever chosen a packaged goods brand of anything to “help you be yourself?” Who thinks that way? Why would a marketer of even average intelligence believe Miller Lite–or any beer–should claim that?

This sort of over-thought, bizarrely turned “strategy” nonsense (probably conjured up by some self-styled “insight team” with next-to-no experience in the beer business) can cause brands to forfeit momentum they might otherwise have enjoyed. It’s as though MBA types and their agency hangers-on can’t stop themselves from creating weird constructs that defy logic and good sense. Who knows why? Perhaps they’re just out to impress each other.

Regardless, they’ll need good luck trying to impress the guy on the next barstool with it.

“How ’bout a Miller Lite so you can be yourself.”

“How ’bout you go f*ck yourself?”

Maybe the MillerCoors brand managers need to get out more often.

It’s about the beer

If Miller Lite’s success owes to one thing, that thing is the beer itself. The sum total of the physical properties of the beer beautifully presented back when as “Great taste. Less filling.” The latest graphics-change only served to remind folks of what people liked about the beer in the first place.

An original Miller Lite promotion piece

In the history of the beer business, no other beer brand has suffered through more awful marketing campaigns than Miller Lite. Since its early ground-breaking effort, virtually every subsequent campaign offered only wrong-headed cleverness and faux insight. All gobbled up by desperate clients. And the brand just kept on declining.

Now that a return to its original look has some folks finding their way back to the “great taste, less filling” brand, the Miller Lite marketing geniuses aim to keep the momentum going with… “be yourself?”

Talk about a buzz-kill.

Then again, maybe it’s just bad luck.



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