We are, after all, ultimately in the story business. Hats off to A-B, who did try to engage us by flying groups of beer writers to their hop farm and maltings in Idaho...but then that turned into a circular firing squad of mutual ethics accusations and just got ugly. And mostly, beer writers didn't write about mainstream beer.
Well...MillerCoors is changing all that! I've been seeing the teaser billboards on I-95 in Philly (one of the big Lite markets) for months now, and the new Miller Lite bottle is finally here! That's right, a NEW BOTTLE! Hot damn!
Yeah. A new bottle. And they're telling us amazing things about it (add your own excited exclamation points, I already took out most of the capital letters):
Consumers Overwhelmingly Prefer The New Bottle 2:1
We Win With Occasional Drinkers Who Preferred The New Bottle By Over 3:1
We Win With All Ages (21-34, 35-40) Both Groups Prefer The New Bottle To Current (Younger By 19 Points, Older By 23
We Win With Hispanics: Hispanics Prefer The New Bottle To Current By 20 Points
Advantages Of The New Bottle Also Place Us In A Stronger Competitive Standing Relative To Bud Light
WOW! I guess all the beer geeks who say the different glassware really makes a difference may have a point, and Miller Lite is keying on it.
I'm yanking Miller's chain, but come on, guys... A new bottle? You already did that! Remember the Vortex bottle, back in 2010? Had a set of spiral grooves on the inside of the neck? Jay Brooks summed that up pretty well here, I mean, what's the point of swirling Miller Lite as it comes out of the bottle, to stimulate the lack of aroma? Maybe...except I did an interview that year with the folks from Owens-Illinois, who developed the Vortex bottle, that I never found a market for and never released...and it shines a light on things here. Have a look.
Within the consumer package and beer industry, people are looking for something new and different. It's important to differentiate. It brings added value and news to the marketplace. The Miller Lite brand has seen a lot of change and not all of it positive. It's innovation in terms of value and news to the brand.
Internal embossing is a tech that Owens-Illinois brought to the marketplace. It's the most significant change to the long-neck bottle since the twist-off cap. The Vortex bottle is an example of how we can merge the science of glass with the art of package design to bring something the market hasn't seen before.
It's designed to differentiate the brand on the shelf. You get the decorative look, and a flat panel for the labeling. We're working with the customers and letting them lead with that effort.
Now...did you notice? Nothing about swirling the beer. That all came from craft guys who assumed it had to be for something. As far as O-I was concerned -- and I was talking to their beer marketing manager and the VP of global innovation -- this was about the look of the swirl. Even Miller never specifically said that the vortex was functional. It's about look. It's all about getting you to look at Miller Lite.
No kidding, right? They're just making up news to get themselves noticed! Because there's nothing new about Miller Lite!
But what about the constant stream of one-offs and one-time seasonals from craft beer? It's all about the beer! Is it? Or is it about getting you to notice them, shouting to be heard over the new darlings -- 16 oz. cans, 'slim' cans, open-top cans, nanobreweries, reality-TV breweries, collaborations -- and then moving on and making something else new?
Look, I like new beers. It's how things happen. But they ought to have some kind of intrinsic value. There are an awful lot of "me too" beers out there among all the innovative ones. It's almost reached the point where making a pale ale is innovative, as people run from them to make exotics.
New beer? New bottle? It's all attention for the brand. Miller Lite spins off way too much money to mess with it; you can't make a craft version (they tried that; major fail). But the craft brewers look at big crafts who leaned hard on a flagship -- Sam Adams, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada -- and they see them running into trouble with their street cred, being passed up as not really craft. (Admit it, if you haven't thought that about Boston Lager, Fat Tire, or SNPA, you've heard someone say it.) And we get new beers that are made just to have new beers. Better than a new bottle, but...where's it go? BeerAdvocate? Tickerville? Celebrator?
I dunno. It's how things work, but for what part of the market? Who reacts to this stuff, and is it enough to have a real effect? Is it just a new bottle?
*I just made that up, and you know, I kind of like it: it's when, about five years ago at the beginning of the Great Recession (I didn't make that up, apparently that's what we're calling the Wall Street debacle and the Stimuless® (yeah, made that one up too...it never caught on, but I haven't given up) now), craft beer stepped out of the background and became the superhero of the beer category by blasting through a collapsing market with hops-fueled double-digit growth. It's when the industry finally realized that this wasn't a fad, wasn't going away, and had to be taken seriously...and Blue Moon and Shock Top stopped being redheaded stepchildren at their parent companies.)