How The Past Can Make the Future: Miller Lite’s Retro Rebranding

Sometimes new life can come from strange places. You might not think that the trick to reinventing a brand is to dig 30 years into the past, but for one beer, the past is a big part of the future.

After redesigning their cans to resemble their 1980s counterparts, Miller Lite is seeing a huge payoff for their rebranding effort.

evolution of miller

But Miller Lite’s retro vibe was supposed to be a limited-time stunt, as part of their tie-in with Anchorman 2 last year. But after impressive sales increases, Miller decided to let the label-change stick. Miller sold 32 more million cans than it had at this point last year. The branding is now being rolled out to cans and bar taps, in addition to bottles.

“A lot of people said, ‘I think the beer even tastes better,’” says Ryan Reis, senior director for Miller’s family of brands.

But what really lies at the heart of it is a millennial quest for authenticity.

“Since millennial beer drinkers are into authenticity and heritage, and with Miller Lite being the original light beer, we believe this is causing a lot of interest,” MillerCoors’ director of media relations Jonathan Stern told the Milwaukee Business Journal.

Pabst Blue Ribbon has seen a similar resurgence, when after 20 years of decline the brand turned itself around in 2001 to become a mainstay of Brooklyn bars. In that case, PBR noticed that their brand was picked up by the local cycling subculture, so they began sponsoring bike messengers races and similar events. Those communities preferred PBR because, similarly, it seemed more authentic and less corporate.

Digging in the past is also something that’s rooted deep in our subconscious: quite simply, the human brain is really great at remembering everything that was great about the past and forgetting the not-so-great stuff.

What’s better for marketing than conjuring up the good ol’ days?

Nostalgia aside, Miller’s new bottle design is just better, in the current scheme of things. Branding needs to aware of its surroundings, and when the best lite-beer competitors are blue, you need to go off in a another direction to get noticed. In this case, it’s white. And the retro design is cleaner and flatter, a huge trend in branding today.

I’ve always thought Miller Lite doesn’t get the credit it deserves, it’s an amazing beer, and hopefully with a little branding finesse, it will.