Watch a set of advertisements during any major television event, and you are bound to see a spot for a Budweiser, Miller, or Coors product. Domestic macrobrewers have notoriously gigantic budgets for ad campaigns, and in terms of sales of their flagship offerings, the rate of return on investment is excellent.
Initially introduced in 2007, Miller 64, Miller Brewing Company’s foray into the ‘ultra-light’ beer market is named after its total calorie count per 12 fl oz. Originally dubbed MGD64, it was launched nationwide after favorable testing in Miller’s home base of Wisconsin. Supported by the usual multi-million dollar ad campaign, everything went according to plan for the brewing giant, right?
Wrong. Within a market increasingly in favor of higher quality craft beer , the product has never gained true traction with consumers. Often perceived as ‘watered down,’ weighing in at only 2.8% ABV, the beer has struggled with its image as a serious option. In the roughly 5 years since its introduction, Miller has rebranded the product multiple times, each iteration failing to increase sales in any meaningful way. The company also attempted to capture a set of non-beer drinking drinkers with a 64 calorie “lemonade” malt beverage under the same brand, but the effort was fruitless, leading to a near instantaneous discontinuation.
Sales of the golden swill were down double digits in 2011, so Miller elected to redesign the brand with an updated label design (a key indicator of brand loyalty in the beer industry) and a new ad campaign. The latter, centered around a catchy ‘sea shanty’ song, features active and attractive 25-35 year olds, but in addition to the actors, the lyrics to the tune and the slogan “Brewed for the Better You” make it obvious that Miller has a clearly defined new target demographic in mind.
Notwithstanding Miller’s spirited efforts to make Miller 64 work, the most glaring issue is the evidence that the market for these products is extremely slim, if not entirely nonexistent. Even in spite of a health-crazed society, ‘healthy beer’ is a fairly obvious oxymoron, and very little can be done by advertising to popularize it on a large scale. By contrast, the popular SkinnyGirl cocktail brand, offering lower calorie mixed drinks, hit all the right notes with a similar target demographic, enough to merit a reported 120 million dollar purchase by Beam Global last year.
So when is enough enough? It seems that occasionally, even when armed with the influence and funding necessary to push a product on a global scale, marketing can fall short of a product that doesn’t fit consumer wants, needs, or expectations, and the best course of action is simply to let go. In this case, the payoff from the latest endeavor remains yet to be seen, but it may be time for the diluted barley beverage to go the way of its predecessors: down the drain.