Budweiser vs. Miller

Time magazine has a great piece on The Battle of the Beers.

It may sound like an obvious motivational tool, but not every beer boss is willing, as Miller Brewing CEO Norman Adami is, to tap a keg and chug a beer at a corporate gathering in front of several hundred cheering workers. There are probably even fewer at his level who are given to earthy battle cries like "If you want to run with the big dogs, you can't piss like a puppy" or "Never come to a gunfight with only a knife." But Adami surely needed all the fighting spirit he could muster when, almost 18 months ago, his longtime employer, South African Breweries (now known as SABMiller), dispatched him to Milwaukee, Wis., to help restore its floundering new subsidiary as a serious rival to behemoth Anheuser-Busch.

For a guy who spent the bulk of his career climbing the ladder at his native land's dominant brewer, Adami, 49, has quickly learned to relish the role of feisty American underdog. Since he took the helm in February 2003, eight months after SAB bought Miller for $5.6 billion, Adami and his team of transplanted South Africans have defied the skeptics by starting a remarkable turnaround at Miller. Over the past decade and a half, the company had been neglected, treated as an afterthought by its parent, food and tobacco giant Philip Morris. But thanks to an irreverent ad blitz that has presented Miller as a fresh alternative to the self-anointed "king of beers," Miller has drawn its rival into an unusually bitter media war and almost overnight "given itself a new identity," as beverage consultant Tom Pirko puts it. In its ubiquitous series of mock political commercials, Miller has mercilessly poked fun at Budweiser by declaring that a democracy should have a president, not a king. Taking a cue from the cola wars, Miller has launched its own version of the Pepsi challenge, engaging beer drinkers in blind taste tests, the results of which will form the basis for a new ad campaign Miller announced last week.

The beer industry is a tough one. With so many brands and so many different customer preferences, you have to fight for every sliver of market share you get. What surprises me is that better advertising can change customer preferences in this industry. I would think the only thing you could hope to do is latch in with the up and coming drinkers – the college kids. Once people get a favorite beer or two, they stick with them.

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