- MillerCoors brand Miller Lite is launching a series of "competitive" ads with chief rival Anheuser-Busch InBev and its Bud Light beer around March Madness, a company blog post announced. The new campaign, which runs across TV, digital and social media, marks one of the largest ad buys ever for the NCAA college basketball tournament, according to the company.
- The lead spot depicts a "director's cut" of Bud Light's Super Bowl commercial from February, which showed the brewer's Bud Knight character being killed off as part of a tie-in with HBO's "Game of Thrones." In the ad, the actor playing the Bud Knight stands up after the director calls cut and eschews a fridge full of Bud Light to instead drink Miller Lite with his coworkers on set. "In the real world, more taste is what matters," reads the tagline, which is followed by a message about how Miller Lite contains half the carbs of Bud Light.
- Bud Light responded to the debut of Miller Lite's campaign with its own advertising and fresh calls for its competitor to commit to transparent ingredient labeling, per news shared with Marketing Dive. In a spot titled "Imitation," a king character from the same universe as the Bud Knight addresses Miller, saying: "If you're this set on imitating our kingdom, may I also suggest imitating us by putting an ingredients label on your packaging." The ad extends criticisms that MillerCoors' brands use corn syrup, messaging that was first introduced as part of Bud Light's Super Bowl push.
The marketing spat between AB InBev and MillerCoors has now spilled over into late March after being ignited by Bud Light's controversial Super Bowl push centered around corn syrup. The back-and-forth in some ways mirrors the Cola Wars that occurred between Pepsi and Coca-Cola during the heyday of soda consumption, though there are some key differences, namely in the aggressive, direct nature of the messaging.
While AB InBev and MillerCoors have long been close competitors in the U.S., their recent advertising blitzes have taken a particularly sour tone, with the dueling campaigns launching around March Madness making swipes at the competition, and Miller Lite even poking fun at the "fantasy land" of Bud Light's signature "Dilly Dilly" creative. Conversely, Bud Light is taking the opportunity to ding Miller brands, noting that Miller Lite declined 15.7% and Coors Light 28.9% for on-premise sales during the recent St. Patrick's Day holiday compared to last year, according to BeerBoard Insights data shared with Marketing Dive. The concurrent efforts are additionally aimed at communicating how consumers feel about each brand in the "real world" versus how the brands perceive themselves, per statements shared by executives.
"[W]hile Anheuser-Busch is living in a fantasy world, we're focused on making sure people here in the real world know Miller Lite has more taste, fewer calories and half the carbs of Bud Light," Anup Shah, VP of Miller brands, said in a statement.
"In the real world, people want to know what's in their beer," Andy Goeler, VP of marketing at Bud Light, said in emailed commentary to Marketing Dive. "We hope MillerCoors is also planning to imitate us by adding ingredient labels to their packaging. It's good for the consumer and the right thing for the beer industry too."
Part of the reason for the high level of tension might stem from the fact that Bud Light's Super Bowl ads have reportedly put a beer alliance between the largest U.S. brewers at risk behind the scenes. According to The Wall Street Journal, AB InBev, Miller parent Molson Coors and Constellation Brands had been collaborating for over a year on an expensive, wide-ranging and brand-agnostic marketing push to help combat the broad dip in beer sales that has harshly impacted each of these companies as consumer preferences shift toward wines, spirits and alcoholic sparkling beverages.
MillerCoors, however, pulled out of a meeting scheduled for this month following Bud Light's Super Bowl commercials, per the Journal, and ran ads on social media and in The New York Times in response to them. The issue, from MillerCoors' perspective, is that corn syrup is fairly commonly used in the brewing process and is also different from high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient more frequently labeled as unhealthy.
MillerCoors' defensive strategy has also taken some more creative avenues. Miller Lite's sister brand Coors Light recently introduced a "smart" technology tap to certain bars around the U.S. that dispenses free beers every time Bud Light goes negative in its TV ads. Like the current Miller Lite campaign, the smart tap promotion coincides with the March Madness basketball tournament, when more people might be in watching games in bars.
Correction: A previous version of this article excluded specifics of the sales timeframe being analyzed in the BeerBoard Insights report and where the data came from. The highlighted BeerBoard numbers refer specifically to on-premise St. Patrick's Day sales.