Light Beer: Less Filling! Tastes Great! Selling Increasingly Poorly!
According to a new survey, men are drinking less beer.
Well, sorta. They’re actually drinking less light beer — that’s according to a recent AdAge article about how sales of “premium” light beer are continuing to decline. Of the drinkers who admitted in a recent survey to consuming less Miller Lite, Bud Light, Coors Light, etc., 27% said they’re doing so because they’re tired of the taste, and 21% cited the fact that they’ve started drinking other kinds of beer. In the past year alone, the number of people who list a light beer as their favorite beer decreased by 4 percentage points (from 32% to 28%).
So what’s happening? Taste is obviously a factor, whether respondents said so outright or implied as much when they said they’re drinking different kinds of beer. (Fifteen percent of drinkers said craft beers are their favorites, up from 13% the year before.) I would pass up most any beer at a summer barbecue in order to enjoy a Coors Light, but particularly amongst younger drinkers, that’s not the case. I don’t know what beer makers can do about the taste of their light beers — what am I, a brewmaster? — but I do know light beers could be marketed to men a whole lot better than they currently are.
Interestingly, a couple of big light beer makers appear to be attempting to lure guys with technology. Coors Light’s “Super Cold Activation” lets drinkers know when their beer stops being merely “cold” and becomes, uh, “super cold.” And Bud Light recently began featuring QR codes on cases, which consumers can scan with their cell phones for chances to win headphones and concert tickets. Why don’t those things seem to be working? Well, yes, men love gadgets. But the reason no one wishes he still had his old StarTAC cell phone or black-and-white TV is because smartphones and HDTVs are so clearly superior. But knowing whether your beer is double-secret cold, or having the chance to win some tickets — assuming the case wasn’t immediately ripped apart when you got to the party — doesn’t necessarily add a ton of value as far as most men are concerned.
What does? A belief that your beer of choice will heighten the experience of drinking a beer. Having a beer is usually (one would hope) a social experience for men. Women can agree to meet up to talk for the sake of talking, but most guys need more of an excuse. Having a beer together gives them that excuse. This is why the best beer commercials of all time — and there have been a lot of amazing ones — were the “Tastes great ... less filling!” Miller Lite commercials of the 1970s and ’80s. The ads featured guys that other guys would want to have a beer with having a beer together: famous athletes (both legendary and legendarily awful), comedians, actors, writers, and even politicians. The commercials were clever, funny, and, boy, oh boy, did they ever stay on message. A few of the best:
The Case of the Missing Case: So that’s where “Mission Impossible” got the mask idea from.
George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin: It’s funny cuz it’s true.
Bob Uecker Pretends to be Whitey Ford: The guy talking to Uecker? A then-unknown John Goodman.
The Lite Beer Bowling League: Poor Rodney Dangerfield.
Steve Mizerak Runs the Table: That trick no doubt earned him lots of free Miller Lites.
(Oddly, the most famous of the commercials, Bob Uecker’s, “I must be in the front row!” spot, doesn’t appear to be online.)
The Miller Lite campaign began before I was born, and yet it was so popular for so long that when I was in first grade, my friends and I would shout “Tastes great! Less filling!” at each other on the playground. (Feel free to debate whether first graders yelling beer slogans at each other is a sign of a great ad or a grave societal problem.) And one last piece of anecdotal evidence for why light beer makers having trouble attracting younger consumers should take inspiration from those old Miller Lite spots: It’s no accident that years after the campaign ended, the beer I regularly drank once I was old enough to drink — and that my friends regularly drank — was Miller Lite.