MILWAUKEE - The beer wars may be back. A new ad by Miller Brewing Co. spoofs a campaign by Anheuser-Busch Cos. and is drawing a response from the industry-leader, which derided Miller for its negativity.
The nation's top two brewers battled several years ago with head-to-head advertising. With the premiere of No. 2 Miller's new ad over the weekend - and the response it prompted - it appears there's a new battle over light beer.
Milwaukee-based Miller's new ad for Miller Lite, unveiled nationwide during football games and NASCAR events, features a Dalmatian on a wagon led by Clydesdales - the iconic horses synonymous with Anheuser-Busch, maker of top-selling Bud Light. In the distance, a Miller Lite truck appears, proclaiming "Miller Lite. Half the carbs of Bud Light" on the back. At a stop, the dog jumps into the Miller truck and rides away.
St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch responded with a full-page ad in USA Today on Tuesday, complete with a picture of a Dalmatian, telling Miller to "keep up the bad work."
"Apparently, Miller Beer believes they have to say negative things about our brands to sell their beer," the ad said. "At Budweiser, we're positive there's a better way of doing things."
The ad said Anheuser-Busch will make a donation to animal rescue groups across the U.S. in response to Miller's ad.
But Miller isn't backing down. The brewer planned a full-page ad in Wednesday's USA Today showing the back of two trucks and repeating its message about Miller Lite having fewer carbs and more taste. The ad concludes, "The Facts Speak For Themselves."
Miller President and CEO Tom Long said in a note to distributors Tuesday that the company will have more showings of the ad this weekend during football games on several networks. It also will be posted on the online video-sharing site YouTube.
"The 'able challenger' is alive and well, and if A-B thought the Miller system would lose its competitive edge in the months to come, they don't know us - or you - very well," Long wrote.
Miller also debuted an ad last month featuring a Bud Light truck behind a Miller Lite truck with a similar message about Miller Lite having more taste than Bud Light. It's conclusion? Bud can't pass Miller.
But it's the "Dalmation" ad that got Anheuser-Busch to respond. Now the question remains, will Anheuser-Busch launch its own TV ads against Miller? Eric Shepard, executive editor of trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights, said the industry is waiting to find out. Anheuser-Busch is slated to launch three new campaigns soon, he said.
Anheuser-Busch wanted to turn Miller's campaign, which it saw as negative, into a positive, said David A. Peacock, the company's vice president of marketing.
"Regardless of any competitor's actions, we remain focused on raising the image of beer and offering choices," he said in a statement.
He did not say whether the new campaigns would mention Miller.
Both brewers have a lot at stake, with light beer making up nearly half of all beer sales in the U.S., Shepard said. The segment regularly outperforms the overall beer market, but it lags behind sales of craft brews, he said.
Miller and Anheuser-Busch's light beers, whose sales are up slightly, are now being outperformed by Coors Light, he said, so their attention may be misguided.
"Our take on it, while Coors is delivering some of its best gains, Anheuser-Busch and Miller are taking shots at each other," he said.
Last month, Molson Coors Brewing Co. and Miller, owned by SABMiller PLC, announced they would combine their U.S. operations to help them compete in a struggling U.S. industry and against Anheuser-Busch, which has about half the U.S. market. Miller has an 18 percent share and Coors has about 11 percent.
Miller had been going after Anheuser-Busch in advertising back in 2003 and 2004, and that continued for several years, said Miller spokesman Julian Green. In 2005, Miller said its rival altered Bud Light to make it more bitter and bubbly. Anheuser-Busch in response complained to cable networks that the statements were false, and some networks ended up putting the ads on hold.
But the direct comparisons were gone by 2006, when Miller launched its "Man Laws" campaign. The campaign featured sports stars and other icons debating what a man is and is not allowed to do. It was popular but failed to increase sales, so Miller switched ad agencies and came up with the new ads with BBH-New York.
Green said Miller is having fun with the ads. The No. 2 brewer knows it has to go head-to-head with the industry giant and that's why it'll continue the campaign, he said.
"Comparative advertising is part of a marketing strategy that companies in number-two, challenger positions usually employ," he said.