'It’s Miller Time' tapping the zeitgeist, generating early buzz

Miller Lite appears to have struck a chord with its reminder that a few friends are better than a few thousand followers.

Since its launch last week, the reimagined “It’s Miller Time” campaign, coupled with the brand’s decision to go dark on its social media handles, is breaking through, delivering PR impressions well ahead of plan, spurring social conversation and garnering widespread media coverage.

One counterintuitive data point that speaks to the campaign’s relevance: Despite its call for people to unfollow it on social media, Miller Lite so far actually has gained more followers than it has lost.  

“Beer was, and is, a ‘medium’ by which social things happen,” Forbes reported last week. “It’s quite fair and poignant, then, for an established beer brand to remind us that beer is the original social media.

The Forbes writer, an advertising industry veteran who once worked on Miller brands for Wieden & Kennedy, went on to say the 90-second spot that heralded the campaign during the first game of the World Series is “unlike any beer ad I’ve ever seen.”

The new Miller Lite campaign is the latest salvo in an effort by MillerCoors to build brands that make real connections with and spark conversations among consumers.

“Our research showed that while millennials acknowledge they frequently engage in social media and use it as a shortcut for connecting, they agree it’s coming at the expense of in-person connection,” says Anup Shah, vice president of the Miller family of brands. “One quote from our research says it all: ‘Social media is so much in our culture and we’re all worried about followers. We are spending more time with people on the screen than our best friends.’’’

And the early returns suggest that it’s resonating.

So far the campaign has earned more than 620 million PR Impressions and counting, well ahead of the brand’s goal, with 97% positive or neutral sentiment. The volume of social conversations around #itsmillertime also is outperforming internal targets. And, despite some unfollows, the brand’s Instagram has gained a net 5,000 followers.

The campaign has received coverage from media outlets including Fast Company, Thrillist, USA Today and Food & Wine, among others, in addition to extensive pickup from broadcast networks and local ABC, Fox and NBC affiliates nationwide.

Going dark on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter throughout the campaign launch is a departure for the brand, which has more than doubled its social investment in 2019 versus 2018. It has relied primarily on paid posts that are aimed at its 21- to 34-year-old target audience. Typically that target would see a post from Miller Lite once per week.

“Social media clearly isn’t the enemy — we just don’t believe it’s a substitute for genuine, in-person connection — and we want to inspire people to seek the right balance,” says Courtney Benedict, director of marketing for the Miller family of brands.

While the brand has gone dark on social handles, it hasn’t abandoned digital media.

“We will still have an extremely robust presence in other digital media: influencers, PR, and a huge online video presence to reach our growth target,” Benedict says.

It’s obviously still too early to see how the campaign delivers on the true test — sales results. But Miller Lite has been outperforming the premium light segment for some time now, taking share for 20 quarters and holding its own in the total category.

That progress was driven in part by the brand’s previous “Hold True” campaign, which relentlessly hammered the brand’s functional attributes of 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbohydrates. (Retail materials will continue to focus on that message.)

The goal of the new campaign is to get the brand back to sustainable growth by building upon the established functional advantage to also develop an emotional connection.

And, of course, encourage people to put down their phones and enjoy time with their friends in a bar over a round of Miller Lites.

“To recruit new, younger legal-drinking-age drinkers, we needed to do something that will truly get their attention and make them think differently about Miller Lite,” Benedict says. “And that’s why we reintroduced ‘It’s Miller Time’ as the original social media, to remind people to really just prioritize moments that matter.”