Miller Lite goes all out to stop the leakage

The struggling brand brings in celebrities and a new bottle to reverse declining sales, but bigger problems are draining its appeal.

By Jason Notte Mar 8, 2013 4:12PM
Beer poured into a beer glass.Great taste? Less filling? Nobody cares.

America has become a fairly contentious society as it is, so debating Miller Lite's finer attributes just doesn't hold the appeal it did in lighter times. That's forcing Miller Lite's parent companies, MolsonCoors (TAP) and SABMiller, and their U.S. joint venture MillerCoors to enlist some celebrities to help it reset American drinkers' clocks to "Miller Time."

According to AdAge, Vince Vaughn, "Hangover III" co-star Ken Jeong, former mixed martial arts star Chuck Lidell and drummer Questlove from The Roots are all slated to appear in a new round of Miller Lite ads. It's a step away from the Miller Lite "man up" ads and a nod to the brand's "Miller Lite All-Stars" glory days of the mid-'70s and '80s.

But these 14 new ads are going to have to be pretty special to stop the leakage for the sinking light beer brand.

Sales of Miller Lite, the No. 4 beer brand in the U.S., have been dropping steadily since the start of the recession. Beer Marketer's Insights showed sales falling 3% in 2012 after posting annual declines as high as 6.6% since 2009. Meanwhile, MillerCoors stablemate Coors Light has hiked sales over the same span and just last year wrested the No. 2 spot away from Anheuser-Busch InBev's (BUD) slumping Budweiser.

Miller Lite's parent companies are also hoping a new bottle available only in bars and restaurants starting in May will help stop the slide. Unfortunately, packaging or visibility isn't the problem for Miller Lite and other big beer brands. Beer sales overall rose 1.4% last year, but light beer has been falling out of favor for some time.

Bud Light remains the top-selling beer in America, with a 19% share of the market, but its sales have fallen by roughly 2% each year since 2009. Even discount brands like Natural Light and Keystone Light lost 7.8% and 4.3% of their sales, respectively, in 2011. Only Coors Light managed even minor gains.

The problem isn't quality or competition from imports and small brewers, but the economy. Washington-based beer industry organization The Beer Institute say it's not that other brands are on the rise but that mainstay brands are on the decline as consumers curb their spending. Saying "beer isn't recession-proof," The Beer Institute notes that big beer's key working-class demographics were hardest hit during the economic downturn and are still less likely to splurge on 30-packs as a result.

Few beer companies know this better than MillerCoors, which saw sales drop 1.8% in 2012 despite overall industry growth. The idea of "Miller Time" implies punching out after a long shift and settling down with a cold one. When large swaths of customers don't have a job to punch out of, even a parade of celebrities and shiny new wrapping won't put "Miller Time" back on the schedule.

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Mar 8, 2013 5:17PM
"The problem isn't quality or competition from imports and small brewers, but the economy."  No the problem is that these major (so called) "breweries" continue producing the same warmed over crap product while constantly increasing the price.  For only slightly more money I can get a much better beer.
Mar 8, 2013 8:22PM

Here's the problem. Good beer, been drinking it for 40 years since the 70's. You keep raising the price. Damn near $20 a case. Stupid!! It's beer, not gold.

Mar 8, 2013 10:02PM
I manage a liquor store in MN and we have a low price on Lite 12 packs at $10.99.  I have Harp 12 packs at exactly the same price and for just a buck more you can gets 12pks of Schell's, Sam Adams, Summit, Guinness, Smithwicks, Sierra Nevada, Blue Moon, Leinie Crafts and more all year round.  Coors Light, Miller Lite and all those other beers should be embarrassed for charging over $10 for their water down crap.  I'll shed no tears over loss of sales of those beers.  Many of those light beer drinkers have moved to wine and ciders we've noticed.  Fine by me as we have higher markup on those items anyway!
Mar 8, 2013 5:07PM
I know if I drink too much beer I leak.  Getting old, just sayin.  Somebody comes out with a no leak beer and I am their best friend for life.
Mar 9, 2013 12:26AM

I've switched to POT, great taste less filling, and no hangover.

Mar 8, 2013 8:32PM
Changing the bottle...Yeah,that should do it...LOL
Mar 8, 2013 8:52PM
I would only drink this if it was served on Sofia Vergara's nipples.
Mar 9, 2013 1:27AM
People are drinking smaller local beers which is better for the economy and better for your health as well. If I drink any Miller/Coors products, I damn near have to go to the hospital because I have hives so bad from all the chemicals they put in their beer ( foam stabilizers and artificial colors). Never have any problems with a Narragansett or Sam Adams or any small company for that matter. Perhaps if your company actually bottled beer rather than carbonated alcohol chemicals, then maybe your crap wouldn't be going down the toilet. 
Mar 8, 2013 9:50PM
yeah, change the bottle  or change the label ..lets get a rock star... flashier ads....anything but brewing a really good do dos at miller will never get it.  look what happend to loewnbrau when it was brewed in license by miller, it went from the best selling import to oblivion. it was an insult to beer.  wake up!!!
Mar 8, 2013 6:34PM
Perhaps people are tired of drinking something that tastes like dish water and chosing beers that taste good. As  'i design' says you can get a much better beer for a tad more money.
Mar 8, 2013 8:25PM
I brew my own, I can tinker with the taste and it costs about .50 per bottle. dont need no stinkin Miller Lite.
Mar 8, 2013 7:14PM
Gimme a PBR or I'm goin home!!!!!!!!!!
Mar 8, 2013 7:37PM
I found out I like scotch & Irish whiskey,so my beer consumption has gone down. Since my consumption has decreased, I can afford to drink Irish beers,Guiness,Shcmidits(not Shcmidts) so as a onetime loyal Miller Lite customer,they noticed.
Mar 8, 2013 6:11PM
Molson, Coors, SAB Miller = That says it all. One company indivisble that puts the same beer in all cans.
Mar 8, 2013 9:44PM
Lite beer is piss and sooner or later people will figure that out>
Mar 9, 2013 1:02AM
The only thing worse than Miller lite is Natural light,it taste like a thimble full of beer diluted by 12 ounces of water!
Mar 11, 2013 8:14AM
 I miss those really cool Miller Lite commercials from the early 80's.
Mar 8, 2013 9:56PM
Gave up beer altogether..  Would rather have a capt'n n coke or gin n tonic..  beer makes me feel too bloated and/or sleepy..
Mar 8, 2013 7:21PM
Anyone for a Jax?  Best commercials ever.
Mar 9, 2013 4:10AM

I must have a different  taste buds that the rest of you, because I like Miller Light, but hate Miller High Light bear.  Coors is ok too.   I visited Olympia, Washington a few years  back and was sad that Miller's bought out Olympia beer, and after a short time shut down the plant.  It's the water.


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