Vietnam's Miller Time

Baltimore Ad Agency Uses Fells Point Scenes In Beer Commercial

August 26, 2009|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

It's Miller time in Vietnam, by way of the streets of Baltimore.

When SABMiller, a large London-based brewing company, decided to launch the Miller High Life brand into the Southeast Asian nation this year, it turned to a Baltimore company to design the advertising. Trahan, Burden & Charles created a commercial with fast-paced scenes of young, chic people having a good time, interspersed with nighttime clips of Baltimore's Fells Point and some iconic images of New York City.

SABMiller "wanted to do something very American," said Allan Charles, chairman and creative director for TBC. The commercial is "all very American. It's meant to show everything that's great about America. Everything that's great about pop culture in America is in a bottle of Miller beer. [The Vietnamese] are very enamored with American lifestyle."

TBC, whose clients include Constellation Energy, the Baltimore Ravens and Discover Card, had worked on beer campaigns for other companies before, though this was only its second foray into the Asian market. But the good news was the agency didn't have to worry too much about cultural details in creating the campaign. That's because the brewing company's research had shown that the country's young people aspired to the American lifestyle - in spite of the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975.

In recent years, the country has made economic and political strides. SABMiller, which markets a local beer in Vietnam, did extensive research on what the 25- to 30-year-old demographic appreciated - and found that the notion of America tested very well among an upwardly mobile population.

"We are more consumed with the Vietnam War being part of our past than the Vietnamese are," said Nichole Baccala, a TBC vice president and account director who handles the SABMiller account. "It's a nonissue there. With the target audience going much younger, it's not even in their mind-set at all. It's a U.S. obsession; it's not a Vietnamese obsession."

SABMiller found that the commercial, shown to target audiences - with a song featuring the slogan "It's American Time, It's Miller Time" - proved to be one of the highest-tested spots ever for the brewing company, according to Sally Brophy, marketing president for SABMiller Vietnam.

"As the rollout continues, we see 'It's American Time, It's Miller Time' earning its way into Asia-Pacific culture and becoming a phrase synonymous with enjoyment and reward time with Miller Beer," Brophy said in a statement.

TBC executives have collaborated with SABMiller in Vietnam during the creative process, taking phone calls at off-hours because of the 11-hour time difference. The agency shot a 45-second commercial and also has a similar, shorter 30-second spot, consisting of some scenes from Baltimore and New York City, with stock images from Los Angeles and Miami. The scenes include a sidewalk shot outside the Hippodrome Theatre and a few bars in Fells Point, including Kooper's Tavern and Slainte - just around the corner from the agency's offices.

Charles said the agency is also working on an outdoor advertising campaign that will promote Miller on billboards in urban areas, primarily Ho Chi Minh City, which has a population of more than 7 million. And the beer company will have "Miller Girls" touring clubs and cafes promoting the beverage, another type of marketing tactic often used by alcoholic beverage companies in the United States.

Miller High Life would be considered a premium beer in Vietnam because of its status as an American import - and it's bringing with it a different taste, Baccala said.

"Traditionally, the Vietnamese have consumed the more darker beers," Baccala said. "This is a lighter, more effervescent beer. It's a different taste than what they're used to from the imports."

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