OPINION: Mills on ... Miller Genuine Draft

I bow to no man in my admiration for the advertising phenomenon of the year. There comes a time, however, when enough is enough.

I bow to no man in my admiration for the advertising phenomenon of the year. There comes a time, however, when enough is enough.

Call me a fool, but I'm bored with gurning idiots everywhere going 'whassup?'.

I'm bored with a hype that allows the 'stars' of the ad to be flown over to London to be paraded in front of a fawning media. I'm bored with reading about how they'd really like to become proper actors/directors/save stray Colombian orphans/bring world peace and so on. They've had their 15 minutes. Now they should get off.

Anyway, that's about enough on Budweiser - except for two things. One, where do their ads go next, huh? I'd say 'whassup?' has nowhere to run but out of steam. Two, over the coming months we shall see how Budweiser has infected the rest of the market because, if you can bet on one thing, it is that every brewer wants its own 'whassup?'.

One that doesn't seem to have been infected so far is Miller Genuine Draft, number four in the premium packaged lager market behind Bud, Becks and Holsten. I'm no lager aficionado, but I'd say there wasn't much to choose between Bud and Miller. Both are US in origin and both target the same urban, switched-on, 18- to 25-year-olds. If there is a difference, it's probably that Bud's bigger in the men's market, not surprising given all the male bonding going on in 'whassup?'.

The twist in this particular market, though, is that while the premium lagers compete with each other, they also compete with newer spirit-mixer drinks such as Bacardi Breezer, Metz, V2 and so on in the pubs, bars and clubs. It's a battle they seem to be losing. Premium lager sales are down 7 per cent this year.

Why? Well, it's partly a badge thing and partly a taste thing - they're easier on the tastebuds than beer and less gassy, which is why drinkers at the younger end of the market like them.

The quest then is for cool as defined by the 18-25 badge-drinking market.

Does Bud have it? After 'whassup?', no way. Where's the fun if your dad and your younger brother are in on it. But I'd guess that was part of Bud's plan. Why stay in a small, fickle sector when with a mass-market ad such as 'whassup?' you can climb out into the bigger standard lagers market?

Still, that may create some space for Miller. As of last week, it's back with a new campaign by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/ Y&R that keeps its distance from Bud. If anything, it's closer to the spirit-mixer ads than any of its more direct competitors.

A group of regular guys are stuck in a New York traffic jam. It's sweltering; they're swigging Miller; they're bored. Only they're no ordinary regular guys. They're the Fun Lovin' Criminals and naturally they do what any self-respecting band would do in a similar situation: start an impromptu gig on the back of their pick-up truck. 'It's Miller time,' announces guitarist Huey, the crowds flock and police helicopters swoop. And that's about it.

Oh, all right, that's a bit simplistic. But you get the idea. The Criminals are New York cool. In Miller's words, they have 'spontaneous fun' (a dreaded phrase that brings to mind the Pringles street drummers). Miller time is party time.

It's a so-so ad that uses just about every visual New York cliche you can think of. It pales by comparison with the Johnny Miller ads of 1994 but, compared with last year's Delicatessen-creaky bedsprings shocker, it's a masterpiece of clarity.

But here's a parallel to bear in mind: Coke and Pepsi. Bud/Coke equals respectable mass market; Miller/Pepsi equals sassy challenger brand going for the youth vote with music.


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