By the early 1980s, the decline of Schlitz was accelerating. In fact, Schlitz was grasping for air as its sales were declining at a rapid rate. As previously discussed, this was due to adding an agent to the beer, chill-garde, to hide certain ingredients in Schlitz. This agent agitated the foam, created an off-taste, and, over a short period of time, the liquid was found to have flakes floating in it.
In trying to stem the losses, Schlitz hired Frank Sellinger from AB in 1978. Sellinger, a chemist and master brewer, got the formula back on track and the beer was once again very good, the damage, however, had been done. Not only had the liquid changed, the brewery changed all its packaging, bottles, cans, etc., indicative of a complete overhaul. The last change was marketing the re-introduction of Schlitz. Sellinger was put on TV. His message was simple: he was at Schlitz to make the best beer!
This, however, was a classic marketing blunder. Longtime Schlitz drinkers, and especially those in the Texas/Louisiana brewing pattern around Longview, Texas, where the formula was never altered, and sales were still good, started leaving the brand. These loyal drinkers had been thinking they were drinking the best beer all along and now, this guy comes on TV and said otherwise. Not long after the attached commercial aired in 1981, Schlitz was sold to The Stroh Brewing Co. The rest of the story we all know.
Just early last year, a former brew master from MillerCoors, related his thoughts as to Miller’s continues sales decline. In his professional opinion, the problem is the quality of the liquid. Despite the fact that the brew master had approached senior management at Miller requesting to upgrade the quality and taste of the beer, his request was denied. The liquid never changed, but the package colors were changed!
It has been a longtime since this brew master walked out of MC, and over the last five years, Miller Lite has had a different ad agency every year! The results have remained the same, with the exception of reverting back to the original colors, negative sales persist as Lite’s market share continues to slip.
In reality there are many products in the market place where some might question quality or taste. Imports that struggle in some countries sell well in the US as a result of effective marketing. Then the question is: should Miller Lite improve its quality as suggested by a former brew master, or keep hiring a different agency every year?
Schlitz, rightly or wrongly, acknowledged they had a problem, corrected it and communicated those changes. It did not help. Miller Lite, does not acknowledge they have a sales problem and their sales continue to drop. The consumer seems know more than the brewery gives them credit. A beer can be successful with either great advertising or great quality, but ineffective advertising and poor quality will ultimately be the death of a beer.
Often, it’s not the arrow, it’s the Indian….