Sorry, Bud Light. Miller Lite can keep saying it has more taste

Miller Lite can continue saying it has more taste than Bud Light and Michelob Ultra, a key pillar of its effort to convert drinkers to the Original Light Beer, according to a ruling announced today by an advertising industry regulatory council.

The decision deals a partial rebuke to Anheuser-Busch, which had filed a challenge with the National Advertising Division arguing against Miller Lite’s ability to keep up its longstanding claim that it has “more taste” than Bud Light, as well as a more-recent claim that it has “more taste” than Michelob Ultra.

“We are pleased with the ruling, and we’re not surprised that the NAD found we provided a reasonable basis that Miller Lite has more taste than Bud Light and Michelob Ultra,” said MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley. “A majority of consumers who try these beers side-by-side know that to be the case as well, which is part of the reason the brand continues to gain share in the category.”

The complaints center on activities related to Miller Lite’s three-year-old Know Your Beer campaign, which pits Miller Lite against competitor Bud Light and aims to change the perception that all light beers are the same. In blind tastings conducted in bars and restaurants nationwide, drinkers are asked to evaluate the two beers based on color, aroma and taste. The results show that the majority of consumers say Miller Lite has more taste than Bud Light. The promotion recently has been extended to Michelob Ultra.

Miller Lite has touted the result of the survey through advertising and social media.

The National Advertising Division, a self-regulatory council, recommended MillerCoors discontinue some aspects of the campaign. MillerCoors has agreed to discontinue certain digital vignettes or modify them to remove statements that suggest consumers participated in a taste test and made a choice based on taste preference. The company also will discontinue challenged influencer videos and certain other promotional activities.

The NAD did conclude, however, that Miller Lite’s 2018 promotional taste tests “used reasonable protocols and provided a reasonable basis for the advertiser’s ‘Consumers Agree More Taste than Bud Light (Michelob Ultra)’ claims.”

The campaign has helped Miller Lite gain market share in what’s proven to be a tough stretch for American light lagers. Year-to-date through Dec. 8, Miller Lite has picked up 0.8 percentage points of share in the premium lights category, according to Nielsen all-outlet and convenience data. The two top-selling beers in the segment, Bud Light and Coors Light, meanwhile, have lost 0.5 and 0.2 percentage points year-to-date, respectively, per Nielsen.

“Bud Light is shedding more than a million barrels a year in volume, and if we can capture higher than our fair share of that volume, that’s a pretty good business case,” Anup Shah, vice president of the Miller family of brands, said last month. While Miller Lite plans to continue with the campaign using Bud Light as a foil, it has been targeting another Anheuser-Busch brand, Michelob Ultra, in select markets this year.

“Bud Light will continue to be a source of volume for us, but we’ll be shifting even more to go after Michelob Ultra, which is growing at a pretty rapid clip,” Shah said. “It’s perceived by consumers to have a sort of health halo with its low calories. Our position is, functionally, we provide more taste for only one more calorie.”

Hattersley said the ruling paves the way for the brand to carry on with its Know Your Beer program into 2019.

“We will continue the campaign, adjusting it accordingly to comply with the NAD’s recommendations,” Hattersley said. “We know it’s helping distinguish Miller Lite, and obviously garnering the attention of our competitors as well.”