The bizarre new Miller Lite campaign that pitches its special "Vortex Bottle."

Advertising deconstructed.
May 3 2010 11:58 AM

Nice Cans!

Miller Lite's bizarre new campaign is all about beverage containers.

The Spot:"Miller Lite introduces a beer bottle like no other beer bottle," says an announcer. We see beer sloshing out of the bottle's special, spiral-grooved neck. "It's a brand-new way to taste greatness. It's the new Vortex Bottle from Miller Lite—and it's almost here."

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Some ads are entirely about mood—pairing a brand with sexy imagery, catchy music, or attractive locations. Other ads are more straightforward, emphasizing a product's essential attributes: a car's five-star safety rating, say, or a camera's powerful zoom lens. Many ads try to meld these two approaches, stirring in a dash of cool with the cold, hard facts.

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Lately, though, I've noticed yet another breed: ads that emphasize trivial, ancillary product attributes in a ploy to distract us from contemplating the product's core identity.

Consider the long-running Twix campaign featuring the tag line "When you need a moment, chew it over with Twix." In these ads, people accidentally wade into awkward situations, then bite into a Twix candy bar as a means of stalling and gathering their thoughts before making a smooth recovery. Watch as a guy—failing in his bid to pick up a politically active hottie—uses a Twix bar as a diversionary tactic:

Yes, I realize that this ad is meant to be funny. It's also an attempt to associate Twix with a certain sort of quick-witted, seat-of-the-pants protagonist—a dude the targeted Twix consumer will presumably wish to emulate. (Hey, why not? He scores with that cute actress who played a similarly idealistic schoolteacher—and Don Draper shag buddy—on Mad Men.) But note that the ad never makes any claims about Twix's taste or nutritional value—two fairly key things to know about a food product. Instead, the spot's promise is that chewing a Twix will provide you with an excuse to stop talking for a few seconds.

I suppose this is a product benefit of sorts. But it's a silly one that nobody actually cares about. The main impression I come away from this ad with is that Twix's taste is indistinguishable from competing candy-bar options—so much so that the company didn't dare create an ad that dwelt on Twix's flavor.

I get the same impression from a new Miller Lite campaign that's all about innovations—including the above-mentioned "Vortex Bottle"—in the realm of beer containment technology. Like candy bars, low-calorie, mass-produced domestic beers are mighty difficult to tell apart. (Who among us could distinguish Bud Light from Miller Lite in a blind taste test?) So Miller Lite's given up on winning this unwinnable taste war and is instead differentiating itself with novel packaging ideas. One new ad shows a guy telling his girlfriend all the reasons he loves Miller Lite's brand-new aluminum pint can. "I love its wider mouth, I love its resealable cap, I love that it's a pint," he says:

Like the Twix spot, this ad barely mentions the product's core attribute (which is, in both cases, taste). Unlike Twix, Miller Lite chooses to emphasize an ancillary product benefit that is actually … a benefit! I remember when I first saw a screw-top aluminum bottle in Tokyo many years ago, before anything like it had come to the States, and instantly recognized its advantages. You can screw the cap back on to avoid spills when you take a pause from drinking or when you're in transit. The aluminum chills quicker in the fridge than does a glass bottle. Sure, there's a vaguely metallic aftertaste, but nothing's perfect. Overall, this is a genuine advance, and Miller Lite should be making every effort to trumpet it. In fact, my only problem with this ad is that it lacks the courage of its convictions: It quickly devolves into another iteration of Miller Lite's irritating guy-can't-express-his-feelings-to-his-girlfriend formula. By my count, less than 15 of the ad's 30 seconds are devoted to talking about these exciting new packaging developments.

As for the mysterious Vortex Bottle? I'm not yet totally certain of its purpose. (Miller Lite offers no clues I could find on its Web site, and my e-mailed inquiries to MillerCoors received no response.) Some have theorized that the goal is to agitate the beer when it's poured into a glass, releasing flavor and bouquet. But who pours Miller Lite into a glass, or cares about its bouquet? Don't we just suck it straight out of the bottle and then order another? The rival theory, more plausible to me, is that the rifled grooves inside the bottle's neck allow a more rapid flow of liquid—the way throwing a spiral makes a football go faster—making it possible to chug way more beer in way less time.

The Miller Lite ad doesn't explicitly mention this benefit (I have to imagine there'd be some dicey liability issues involved in advertising a way to get drunk quicker), but if the bottle truly serves this purpose, word will soon spread. The inevitable next step? Cans with pre-scored holes for easier shotgunning. Also, bottles with built-in, telescoping funnels.

Grade: B- for Miller Lite, D- for Twix. When your product tastes exactly like your competitors', it makes a lot of sense to move the fight to a new battleground. Twix switched to emphasizing a product benefit no one needs or wants. Miller Lite switched to emphasizing revolutionary new advances in beer portability and chillability—just in time for summer!

Bonus anecdote of possible interest to those in search of a quicker drinking method: I once attempted to rig a two-story beer funnel using a very long piece of tubing. The first try was a fiasco. Aided by gravity, the beer accelerated to a fantastic speed and knocked the unfortunate fellow waiting at the bottom—lips wrapped around the tube—flat on his back amid an explosion of frothy foam and garbled moans. Later, we discovered the secret is to make a loop-de-loop at the halfway point of the tube, interrupting and slowing the beer's descent. You're welcome.

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