Beer Brewers Plan Image-Enhancing Ad Campaigns

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Beer Brewers Plan Image-Enhancing Ad Campaigns

NEW YORK--Beer rivals Anheuser-Busch Cos. and SABMiller PLC that poured millions of dollars into ads that reinforce a raucous, frat-boy image, haven't done themselves any favors, according to The Wall Street Journal .

Now they need to undo all that hard work, says the new top marketer at Miller Brewing Co., in the report.

"People will tell you that beer is not sophisticated enough, or stylish enough, to compete with wine and spirits," Tom Long, Miller's chief marketing officer, told The Wall Street Journal . "Why do they think that? Well, I believe it's because we told them to."

As evidence, Long points to such recent beer commercials as Miller's own "cat fight" spots, in which two women duke it out and tear each other's clothes off, and spots for Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light featuring flatulent horses and a dog attacking a man's crotch. And let's not forget the bikini-clad twins for Molson Coors Brewing Co.'s Coors Light.

Is it just a coincidence that while the beer industry has been hitting these advertising themes, three important consumer groups have begun to turn away from beer in favor of wine and mixed drinks? Baby boomers increasingly are drinking wine, young women now often find it more fashionable to drink a low-carb cocktail than a brew, and older members of the so-called echo-boom, the children of baby boomers born from the late 1970s through the early 1990s, also seem drawn to cocktails, in large part because of the more-sophisticated image the spirits industry has created for its products, according to the report.

"We've marketed our way into this problem," Long told The Wall Street Journal “And we can market ourselves out of it."

In an unprecedented effort to reverse the industry's decline, Anheuser-Busch, which controls roughly half of the U.S. beer market and has dominated it for decades, is trying to drum up support in the industry for the equivalent of the dairy industry's popular "Got Milk?" campaign, reported The Wall Street Journal .

Robert C. Lachky, Anheuser's executive vice president of global industry development, working through the Beer Institute, an industry group, has been assigned to get other brewers in line. He said in the report that the response so far has been "unbelievably favorable."

According to several people familiar with the campaign's development, brewers would donate advertising space in which one of the industry spots could run. Conceivably, a spot could run during one of Anheuser's many Super Bowl slots, although no final decisions have been made. As for costs, "we haven't costed it out yet," Lachky said in the report, "but we're really at a point where a little could go a long way."

According to the The Wall Street Journal , Lachky has circulated several ideas for TV ads among beer executives, retailers and other insiders. One, dubbed "Here's to Beer," shows people around the world drinking beer and toasting in different languages, according to several people who have seen it. "It's about connecting and the universality of beer," says Lachky. It is one of three or four concepts the industry is considering.

A print campaign making the rounds would feature celebrities who answer the question, "Who would you like to have a beer with?" In the version that Lachky has shown several executives, Paul Newman wants to have a beer with Teddy Roosevelt. Oprah Winfrey chooses Lucille Ball.

Lachky says the campaign is still in its rough stages, and individual celebrities haven't been approached yet, according to the report.

In an industry that spends a collective $500 million in the U.S. pitching its brands, the new effort may be just one more squirt from the advertising keg. Still, industry executives have been buzzing with curiosity about what form the new campaign will take, according to The Wall Street Journal .

According to the report, Miller and Coors have expressed interest in participating in the campaign. According to several people familiar with its development, brewers would donate already-purchased ad time for a TV spot to run, possibly even one of Anheuser's many Super Bowl slots, though no final decisions have been made.

As far as budget, "We haven't costed it out yet," says Lachky, "but we're really at a point where a little could go a long way."

The defection of the echo-boomers has hit beer makers particularly hard, digging directly into beer's longtime consumer base of 21- to 27-year-olds. Indeed, Miller's Long says beer makers grew too comfortable targeting young men in this age group, a group he calls "the Pack."

A "girls and humor" ad formula made some sense, Long says, considering that young men continue to drink the vast majority of beer in the U.S. But "girls and humor" became "bimbos and slapstick" -- "and ultimately our message often became a parody of itself," Long told The Wall Street Journal .

Beer's share of the overall U.S. alcoholic-beverage market peaked in 1995 at about 61 percent, according to industry estimates, but it fell to 58 percent by 2004. Spirits' share of the market has climbed to more than 28 percent in 2004 from just under 27 percent in 1995, while wine grew to 14 percent in 2004 from under 12 percent in 1995.

Anheuser is taking other measures to improve beer's image. It is promoting cocktail recipes to bartenders that make use of beer as a mixer. It is selling "limited edition" seasonal beers for the holidays and trying new packaging for existing Budweiser brands. And it even is showing signs of interest in moving into the world of distilled spirits, testing a new liquor in several markets, reported The Wall Street Journal .

Long stopped short of promising the industry would turn its back on bathroom humor and babes. "Does this mean we're suddenly going to get high-fallutin' and start giving away free pedicures with every twelve-pack?" he asks in the report. "Of course not."