Brewers to Change ‘Frat-boy’ Image?

Miller’s marketing chief suggest tone of ads may change

Beer rivals Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller 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.”

Meanwhile, the specialty beer category, which is marketed through grass roots efforts that communicate quality, have had two strong growth years as the major brands remain flat.

The last few years have been especially distasteful; Miller’s “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 to name just a few..

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 major-brand beer in favor of wine and mixed drinks? Baby boomers increasingly are drinking wine and specialty beer, 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.”

With a cost. The beer industry spends a collective $500 million in the U.S. in advertising.

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.

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.”