The Most Pretentious Man in the World

Last week, I walked into a large liquor store that has great close-out deals on seasonal craft brews.  However, this week’s big deal was anything but a craft beer—it was Miller Fortune, the heavily promoted new premium from MillerCoors.  While I was happy to pick up a case for less than a typical microbrew 12 pack, I was also somewhat saddened.  Fortune has been on a downward descent for some time now, moving from its initial featured end-cap position in most stores to bargain brand shelf space and pricing.  But $1.99 for a four-pack of 16 oz. cans? It just hit rock-bottom.

“Buy it now if you like it,” said the store manager. “I have a hunch it’ll be gone soon.”

Given the multi-million dollar ad campaign behind it, the failure of Fortune is shocking, yet oddly predictable. When Miller launched Fortune at the male millennial segment last spring, it positioned the product against top-shelf liquors, not other beers. This made sense, at least in theory.  Millennials—perhaps influenced by Mad Men—consume distilled spirits at a higher rate than their beer-first older siblings. Additionally, while beer sales overall have been trending down for several years, consumers have consistently paid higher prices for premium (and higher alcohol) brands and craft brews. And so we got Miller Fortune. Packaged in black, with a spade playing card logo and a stiff 6.9 ABV, it was intended to project a sense of mystery and adventure. The massive $30 (est.) million ad campaign that launched it featured urban, night-time settings and starred British villain Mark Strong, who’d recently appeared in Jaguar’s Super Bowl ad.  Messaging included lines like “Open Pandora’s Bottle” and “You never know where Fortune leads.” The brand practically oozed a virile, Mad Men-style swagger and sophistication.

Or so Miller thought.

Despite its ubiquitous launch, Fortune’s sales have been decidedly unfortunate and it has essentially become a price brand. Not exactly what MillerCoors had in mind for the largest, most significant launch since their 2008 merger. What’s more, I don’t know a single millennial that drinks it—Fortune’s only fans seem to be older bargain hunters like me. Contrast this with Dos Equis, whose steady, multi-year rise in sales has corresponded precisely with its “The Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign. There are interesting parallels between the two campaigns, but also some crucial differences.  Clearly both brands are aiming for the “step-up” buyer looking for a darker, stronger, more sophisticated beer. Clearly both are trying to position themselves as adventuresome, mysterious and hyper-male. The difference is how they do it.  While Fortune’s ads are pretentious and full of themselves, Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man” spots are purely tongue-in-cheek. People watch them and laugh—whereas people watch Fortune’s and feel dirty. The Dos Equis campaign also lends itself to endless memes and promos on social media, whereas Fortune’s does not. It just lends itself to fire sales.

While this is bad news for MillerCoors (and, I’d argue, macrobrewers in general) I guess it is good news for bargain hunters…at least ‘til the current stock is depleted and Fortune fades into history. But, then, there will undoubtedly be another brand bust to replace it on the sale shelves soon enough.

In the meantime, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”