For some time now I've been puzzled about the Miller Brewing Co.'s television spots for Genuine Draft beer, but I wrote off my bewilderment as part of the aging process. I thought that maybe I had let the world pass me by, and I simply didn't get it. If you're not familiar with the ads, they were filmed in black and white and seemed to be directed toward blue-collar workers. One spot even showed the driver of a beer truck discussing how he delivered beer on a given day. However, the commercials didn't present blue-collar workers or beer-truck drivers in a favorable light.
But clarity and relief have come, and I now realize I wasn't the only one who thought the commercials missed the mark. It seems a lot of people who actually handle Miller's Genuine Draft felt the same way. At least that's what an article in our sister publication Advertising Age seemed to say when it reported on a meeting of Miller wholesalers a couple of weeks ago. Miller execs announced a substantial change in the campaign, prompting the wholesalers to applaud.
In his weekly column in Crain's Chicago Business, Joe Cappo, senior vice president/international of Crain, wrote about the ad campaign: "Tens of millions of dollars were spent on the advertising. The commercials were heralded in some areas. But sales of the brand have been declining since the commercials started to run." Cappo explained that the spots caught his eye at first "because they were so different from the average beer commercial. But I also noted they never really said the beer tasted good or was better than any other beer on the market. And I also wondered whether the blue-collar approach actually might turn away a segment of the audience-people looking for an upscale brew."
Cappo described another substantial problem with the ads: "Like virtually every other beer campaign, the Miller effort was aimed at the 18-to-34-year-old market, the age group that consumes the greatest portion of beer. But what is lost in this plan is the fact that the number of people in this age group will decline by about 8% during the 1990s."
He recommended how Miller might design and target any new campaign: "Why not appeal to the 35-and-over crowd, which is growing substantially during the 1990s! Only the brewer can give you the answer. And finally, maybe the company should have heeded the words of the legendary advertising figure Leo Burnett, who said: "We want customers to say, `That's a hell of a product,' instead of, `That's a hell of an ad.' " Cappo hit the nail on the head. Nothing could be clearer than Burnett's wise words.
A few years ago I attended a focus group with a number of chief executive officers in healthcare. There was a very intense discussion about some critical issues facing the healthcare industry. Then the advertising agency hired by the company sponsoring the meeting handed out some copies of a soon-to-be-announced advertising campaign. The ads were beautifully illustrated in four color and had copy quoting Robert Frost, Henry Thoreau and other great American authors. After some moments of thought, one CEO finally observed: "These ads are beautiful and well-done, but they don't tell me anything about your products. Frankly, as nice as they are, they don't do it for me. I want to know more about your products and how they can help my institution." The other CEOs expressed similar opinions. People from the advertising agency and the company were disappointed, but they got the message and changed their campaign.
Too often-whether we sell, run a business or coach a team-we forget the basics. We get caught up in the glitz and overlook the substance of what we are. One of the basics in advertising is to extol the virtues of a company's product. Four-color pictures are great and so are the words of a great philosopher. But in most cases, a company isn't selling pictures or philosophy books. It is selling products that will help its customers. And that's what the ads should talk about.
Good ads are hard to find,
Charles S. Lauer