The Genius of the Miller High Life 1-Second Super Bowl Spot


The Super Bowl (that’s right, Goodell, I said it) has long been an attractive time for companies to advertise. The intense focus on the game allows the broadcast station to charge far above the normal rate for advertising space. The cost of a 30-second spot in 1967, the year of the first Super Bowl, was $42,000; that number in 2016 was $5 million. The increased cost comes with increased pressure for advertising companies to deliver, and we often see commercials that are as interesting as the game itself. This space is dominated by large companies (doritos, coca cola, budweiser) because those are the companies that can afford such a high price. With so many priced out of the space, companies wondered if there was a way to get into the big game without paying exorbitantly for it. Enter Miller High Life.

Miller High Life is an offshoot brand of Miller. The self-proclaimed “Champagne of Beers”, they pride themselves on offering high quality, low price beer. Many of their prior ad campaigns featured actor Windell Middlebrooks portraying truck driver as a sort of urban Robin Hood, taking the High Life beer away from stuffy, pretentious owners of box seats, and giving it back to the common man in the bleachers, for example. They overtly reject luxury and excess, focusing instead on the low cost sensibilities that many bring to their everyday lives.

It would make no sense and be completely off brand for Mille High Life to buy multiple 30 second spots for the Super Bowl. According to senior brand manager Kevin Oglesby “Miller High Life is all about high quality and great value, so it wouldn’t make sense for this brand to pay $3 million for a 30-second ad.” They opted instead to run a 1-second ad, wth two weeks of promotions in the time leading up to the big game. Note: I’m going off memory for the lead up ad campaign, as I can’t find any videos showing their promotion of the 1-second spot. I did find evidence of news reports on High Life’s intentions as early as January 20 of that year.

I also couldn’t find exact numbers as to the cost of the 1-second spot. If it was $3 million for 30 seconds, 1 second could have cost $100,000. That would assume a straight line cost per second, where the reality is that each additional second would experience decreasing marginal costs, meaning the 30th second of advertising is cheaper than the 29th, which is cheaper than the 28th, and is much cheaper than the 1st. Let’s be safe and just double it, so Miller High Life paid $200,000 for their 1 second.

A 1 second spot by itself would not have much impact because it would be easy to miss. High Life’s 2 weeks of lead up advertising would build awareness for the 1 second spot. It is not important to know the price of those two weeks if we assume that High Life’s competitors, who bought a 30 second spot, also continued to advertise during those two weeks. This way, the only difference in advertising money would appear during the Super Bowl. There are many reasons to reject this assumption, but its an assumption I need to make to avoid getting stuck without a conclusion.

you can see the High Life’s spot(s) here. Apparently, the spot only ran in over 100 markets (is that low?) because NBC saw the campaign as disparaging advertisers who were willing to pay them far more. High Life ran the additional ones on their website.

Despite only having 1 second, and despite the limited availability, the campaign was very successful. High Life experienced an 8.6% sales increase in the week after the Super Bowl. Overall beer sales increased by 5% in the two weeks surrounding the big game, a number High Life improved upon.

That is where the genius lies. Even if High Life hadn’t out performed other beer companies, its campaign would have been a success with the increase. They spent substantially less than competitors, to same or better outcomes. They played directly to their consumer base in their message. They also created a buzz about them because of how different their commercial was going to be. They became a sort of novelty. Companies try to differentiate their advertisements with creativity of content, without affecting their costs. High Life was able to do both. They brought to market a creative 1-second advertisement that was creative precisely because it was 1-second. They probably even experienced reduced costs in producing the ad: no need for writers, actors, time, multiple cameras, sets, etc.

Everything about this campaign was a winner. High Life played directly into the hands of their base with this ad philosophy. They don’t need 3o seconds to sell you on why you should drink their beer. 1 is enough. Let’s get it over with, crack open a beer, and get back to the game.

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