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Why Miller Lite is scorning social media to fight the new war in beer advertising

Its new campaign uses the flattery of being a nonconformist to try to get users to get off Facebook and into a bar.

Why Miller Lite is scorning social media to fight the new war in beer advertising

A man peeks out his apartment’s peephole and discovers a hallway full of lurkers staring at his closed door. Another man looks up from his phone on a street corner to see a crowd of doppelgängers staring back waiting for his next move. Both men react by running in the opposite direction, chased by throngs through the streets. A woman is seen dashing through a department store as an army of look-alikes follows suit.

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No, it’s not the latest Black Mirror commentary on the darker side of our digital lives.

It’s a new Miller Lite ad.

The new campaign ad, “Followers,” by agency DDB Chicago, is using the age-old idea of Miller Time and positioning it as an antidote to our collective social feed fatigue. The brand is complementing this notion with a promotion that will reward drinkers who unfollow Miller Lite on Facebook and Instagram with free beer. Just text a photo or screenshot to an SMS short code and include keyword “Unfollow,” and the brand will send you a link to upload a receipt from buying some Miller Lite, and the brand will credit your PayPal account. Miller Lite is also taking two weeks off from any social media of its own.

The company’s research found that people will spend five and a half years of their lives on social media, and 50% of 21-to-27 year olds only meet up with their close friends a few times a month. “We have this amazing history with ‘It’s Miller Time,'” says MillerCoors CMO Michelle St. Jacques, adding that the goal here was to tap into the brand’s past to evoke the power of personal connection. “We thought that was an awesome opportunity to kind of relaunch it and redefine what Miller Time means today. As the original social media, we think that we want to get more people into bars and where they have genuine real-time connections over a beer, ideally a Miller Lite, and we loved the idea of taking something from our past but reinventing it in a really new and modern way.”

Welcome to the new beer wars

Beer ads—and particularly light beer ads—have traditionally been among the most fertile ground for comedy and general silliness—look no further than Dilly Dilly. But years of slow, stagnant, and overall declining sales, whether to the craft beer insurgency or now the hard seltzer phenomenon, has put the pressure on beer brands not just to win new market share but also to hold onto customers they already have. It’s led to an amped-up competition, where brands are directly calling out their rivals. This year Bud Light used the Super Bowl to call out MillerCoors duo Miller Lite and Coors Light for using corn syrup as an ingredient. MillerCoors took them to court—and won. More recently, Bud Light parent Anheuser-Busch accused MillerCoors of stealing recipe secrets.

Welcome to the new beer wars.

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But despite the recent heat on these old rivalries, St. Jacques, who joined the company from Kraft Heinz in February, insists that her focus is not on the competition but instead on winning back young drinkers. In a media and advertising-soaked culture, St. Jacques says her brands’ biggest challenge isn’t from rivals but rather fighting against what she calls “beer blindness.”

“A lot of beer advertising feels the same,” she says. “When you think about beer blindness, it’s younger people who see a beer ad and they just kind of turn off right away. They’re like, ‘Oh, that’s just Big Beer.’ We have to challenge ourselves as marketers to find new, fresh, bold ways for our brands to break through that clutter and ultimately land our brand point of view.”

That point of view right now is to tap into a growing sense that the scale, scope, and intensity of our digital lives is not a healthy way to live, positioning Miller Lite as a nonconformist in a world of Brand Twitter and the manufactured life of a social feed.

Of course, major marketers have been using the flattery of nonconformity for more than a generation to sell everything from jeans to sneakers, to yes, even beer. The bet here is that young drinkers will buy the message of real connection coming from a global corporation using perhaps the most contrived communication there is: an ad.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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