"If you're not storytelling, I think you're dead in the water." So admits Stevie Benjamin, director of media at MillerCoors. Consumers today want to be entertained and engaged rather than advertised to, she says, and advertisers that have developed strong relationships with publishers and networks are better positioned to provide content that breaks through the media clutter.
"Millennial consumers grew up on DVRs and marketing through video games," says Benjamin, who will speak at the 2013 ANA Media Leadership Conference, February 24-26, in Miami, Fla. "They turn off messaging if it's not appealing. That doesn't mean the end of the 30-second spot; it means the middle ground of webisodes, games, programming, information, and music also needs to be part of the mix." Benjamin explains the role of media today at MillerCoors, which new media platform excites her most, and how the company is reaching Hispanic consumers, among other topics.
Q. How has the role of media changed in the marketing of MillerCoors' brands?
A. Historically, media teams were more focused on where to run the brand message. That's changed. Now, it's not just about finding a place for the message, it's about creating the message. We're striving to get our brand more integrated with content, and our consumers more integrated into our brand. We built a media team that understands content marketing, and that's not by accident. In partnering with publishers and networks -- and their world-class production talent -- we can develop entertaining spaces for our brands. I think the place where media can really shine is the in-between space, where the brand message is built into the entertainment that consumers want. The media industry is well poised for that space right now.
Q. While TV continues to be a dominant medium for MillerCoors, which new media platform excites you most?
A. We do try to think about screens holistically. After all, the consumer really doesn't differentiate between platforms or ads. I understand we're not quite there yet. As an industry, there are separate sales teams, separate agencies, separate groups in marketing. I suppose until TV becomes smarter and phones have better content, we'll think about them differently. We do remain excited about all screens, and we have good success bringing online ideas to TV and TV ideas online. But overall, mobile is a screen where we continue to place more bets. It's really integral to a beer-drinker's life. Mobile is especially critical to us right before a sale. We can do a nice mix of brand-building work and drive to retail. We trademarked the phrase "Cold Hard Facts," and brought it to the sports world through ESPN's successful ScoreCenter app. We're building equity in that property with the more than 22 million active users. We're also piloting partnerships with some pretty big retail chains to help beer become part of the digital experience. People are spending a good amount of time with mobile content - we've actually been pleasantly surprised. We recognize that there are some awesome opportunities with mobile that are very different from television. But at the end of the day, we want to be consistent across screens.
Q. In what ways has the evolving media landscape helped MillerCoors better engage multicultural audiences?
A. Multicultural marketing has really gone mainstream, which is pretty exciting. Take the Hispanic segment. Seven years ago, the Spanish-language programming and content was so much more limited. In fact, the No. 1 Spanish-language online activity was online banking, because there just wasn't enough content. It's been exciting to see an explosion in this space, which we're pretty passionate about. Also, we may have been one of the first advertisers to sign on with ESPN Desportes. That allowed us to get on the ground floor and establish a content presence early. We want to support and reward our network partners that are creating great content for the multicultural consumer.
Q. What type of progressive "experiences" is MillerCoors creating to better connect with Hispanic consumers?
A. A good example is our Coors Light Hispanic Futbol campaign. While U.S. Hispanics are passionate about Mexico's Primera Division futbol league, there was a lack of information about the league, the players, and the community around it in the U.S. Since the teams and games are in Mexico, we wanted to bring the league to our fans here. Our current campaign features sponsorship of the league in the U.S., a Coors Light/Univision digital hub, massive game-viewing parties, an actual U.S.-based match, and a Coors Light/Univision TV show, Fanatico. The show airs once a week throughout the season. It's really an extension of the digital hub. There are fan interviews, fan videos, plus a lot of high-end talent from Univision who normally commentate on the matches. It's very professional, and we keep adding to the program. Working with a great media partner like Univision is so beneficial. They have access to great content and a large audience. They do what they do best and we do what we do best, which is to provide our fans with a great experience with Coors Light. The fan is always at the center of these activities, and Hispanic Coors Light beer sales are on fire.
Q. How important is consistency of message with these audiences?
A. Because so many Hispanics are bicultural, message consistency across languages is critical. We stay very true to our brand positioning, but recognize cultural relevance. We have employed "crossover" creative that can run in both Spanish and English. Consistency with cultural relevance is key.
Q. Are you actively taking advantage of real-time marketing?
A. We're definitely trying to. What we have learned is that it takes a ton of preparation to be spontaneous, but the results are worth it. Our Miller Lite NASCAR driver, Brad Keselowski, recently won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Before the race, he directed his 355,000 Twitter followers to the Miller Lite handle, where we tweeted for him during the race. He won the Cup on a Sunday, and just as the race ended, our home page takeovers went live. On Monday afternoon, Brad drove a Miller Lite beer truck to ESPN for a SportsCenter interview, and David Letterman interviewed him the following day. By listening to consumers, we learned the vastly oversized Miller Lite beer glass Brad drank out of right after his win was becoming a trending topic. We quickly launched the @bradsglass handle. We also auctioned the actual Miller Lite glass on eBay with the proceeds going to charity. All this activity spanned just a few days. If we didn't hit that crucial peak consumer interest point, it would have been too late. The consumer would have moved onto the next thing.
Q. How are you measuring success?
A. It does and always will come down to selling beer. We always strive to tie our activities to barrel sales. But we also recognize there are so many marketing factors that could lead someone to, say, order a Blue Moon. So, we are using every tool available to us and then pushing for more. Right now we are piloting some pretty interesting work with our agency Initiative that helps quantify paid, earned, and owned channels both separately and as a whole.
Q. MillerCoors is well known as a creative organization. Do you have a formal process in place for generating new ideas and boosting creativity?
A. We are proud of our innovative history, and we recruit for that trait. If you interview at MillerCoors and are asked: "How have you challenged conventional wisdom," we're definitely listening to the answer. So, our great people are an important component. But we also have a process called 250 forward that creates integration across teams and agencies. Working together and not in silos enables better ideation and creativity. Plus, we are a company that is passionate about beer; our employees look forward to coming to work. It helps to be creative if you are happy about what you're creating.