Interview with The Original Miller Lite
Peter: Mister Can, or should I say Ms. Can?
Miller Lite: Actually, it’s Ms.
Miller Lite: Yes, it has something to do with the calories and my folks.
Peter: Your folks?
Miller Lite: Yes, Joseph Owades and Meister Brau Brewing Co.
Peter: What did that have to do with being a “Ms.” beer?
Miller Lite: My dear, remember that Miller “High Life” was put in a clear bottle with gold foil covering the cap was marketed as the “Champagne of Bottled Beer” to appeal to women drinkers. I’m just the “Jenny Craig” version of her. And I can tell you, when I appeared, I was a knock-out.
Peter: What was it like to be the first light beer?
Miller Lite: When I was introduced in 1972 and I’m pleased to say I managed to stand out and get attention… in an election year. Not only that, there was something called “Watergate”. And then there was poor George McGovern, he was running against Richard Nixon. Even with a war going on, and a political brouhaha in Washington DC, Mister Nixon won… in a landslide.
But I think the thing that most people remember was the landing on the Moon. I know, I was there for a lot of the celebration.
And when it comes to sports! I was there for the Pittsburgh Steelers “Immaculate Reception”. You can guess who was with me at the game. By then I was hanging out with Bob Uecker , Joe Frazier, Marv Throneberry, Boog Powell, Bubba Smith, Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner, just to drop a few names.
Peter: I’m impressed! Getting noticed while all that was going on! But getting back to your image, how did you develop from a beer designed for women drinkers to a beer that sports stars argued about?
Miller Lite: I’m afraid I’m not the person to ask that. All I know is that in 1972 and for the next few years there were some long hot summers that needed me. I remember my friend Billy Martin talking about something called “The Bronx”, and how it was “burning”. But let me tell you… I was having too good a time to really listen to the rest of the story.
Peter: Just one last question. It says on the side of your can “Inside is a Pilsner beer brewed with the finest quality ingredients. Because of a special brewing process, Miller Lite gives you more taste at only 96 calories.” And under that it says, “Same great taste.” I’m assuming the reference to same great taste is the taste of regular Miller beer known as Miller High Life. But the bit about the 96 calories surely has to do with your alcohol content. Aren’t you a little bit late in the ABV?
Miller Lite: There you go again with those technical questions. I do wish I could tell you. What you will just have to ask the experts. I only know that I’m still trim and slim after all these years.
Peter: Thanks again ma’am, I appreciate your candor and your take on what it was like to be introduced in 1972. Allow me to let you in on a secret, you’ll still be around in 30 or 40 years.
Miller Lite: Well thank goodness! I put everything in a 401K rather than company stocks.
The True Story behind Miller Lite.
In 1972 Miller bought rights to the Meister Brau line of products, including one called Lite Beer. Although Lite Beer cost less to produce than regular beers, the Miller Brewing Company positioned it as a premium beer.
The formula for Lite Beer continued to prove a winner, especially because of widespread, aggressive marketing. Miller’s goal was to convince the public that the low-calorie beer was as suited for men as it was for women. Not only did Miller achieve this goal, it broke ground in the brewing industry by developing the Lo-calorie/low-carbohydrate beer and made it a national best seller. Here is the story of how that was done.
From the Start
In 1973 Miller’s advertising agency, McCann-Erickson, was given the Lite Beer account. Bob Lenz was the creative group head in charge of the account. He did the usual brand research and found that, for some reason, the beer drinkers of Anderson, Indiana, were head-over-heels in love with this “Lite” beer. This friendly town in the heartland of America had taken “Lite” to its heart. Men, women, lawyers, anyone who drank beer in Anderson, drank “Lite” beer. All Lenz had to do was figure out how to convince the rest of America to love low-calorie beer, too.
Inspiration on the Bus
The first piece of the puzzle fell into place while Lenz was riding a bus in New York City. He glanced up at an advertisement for the fledgling New York Off-Track Betting business. The smiling countenance of ex-New York Jet Matt Snell smiled back at him. Lenz had worked with Snell before, so with a little convincing, signed him up as the new “Lite” spokesman. That first television ad was a classic….you remember it! There is lovable Matt Snell, sitting in a comfortable-looking bar room (actually Joe Allen’s in New York City) with the graphic “Matt Snell Super Bowl Hero” plastered at the bottom of the screen. There is a huge pile of Lite beer cans on the table. Snell begins…. “You know, new Lite Beer from Miller is all you ever wanted in a beer…and less.” Snell then held up a bottle of Lite and told you that it was not only low in calories, it was also low in carbohydrates! (A big topic at that time.) Finally, as the camera pans back to reveal the pile of beer cans, Snell offered the following (as the FCC required); “Oh, I’m not saying I drank all this beer myself. I had some help from my friends.!” (Then came the punchline): “At six foot three, two-thirty, there’s a lot of me to fill.”
That was the start of an advertising campaign that turned Miller Lite into a national institution and started the “light beer” revolution.