My Interview with the Original Miller Lite Beer Can

The Old Growler: Mister can, or should I say, Ms. can?

Ms. Miller Lite: Actually, it’s a Ms..

The Old Growler: Really?

Ms. Miller Lite: Yes, it has something to do with the calories and my mom and dad.

The Old Growler: Your mom and dad?

Ms. Miller Lite: Yes, Joseph Owades and (unintelligible).

The Old Growler: What did that have to do with being a Ms. beer?

Ms. Miller Lite: The whole concept behind Miller Lite was originally, I’m told, to target female beer drinkers. But you will have to look it up. All I know is that when I was introduced, I looked fantastic.

The Old Growler: What was it like to be the first light beer?

Ms. Miller Lite: Well, I was introduced in 1972, and I’m pleased to say I managed to stand out and get attention, even in a National Election year. Not only that, there was something called the Watergate scandal. If it had to do with the water in Washington, I could tell you I knew something terrible was brewing. And then there was poor George McGovern, he was running against Richard Nixon. Even with a war going on in South East Asia and a political brouhaha developing in Washington DC, Mister Nixon won in a landslide.

But I think the thing that most people remember from when I was introduced was that we landed on the moon. That is, you folks did. I know I was there for the celebration.

And when it came to sports, I was there for the Pittsburgh Steelers Immaculate reception. You can guess who was with me at the game. I mean, I know just about everybody in the sports world. Let me list a few; Matt Snell, Billy Martin, Joe Namath, and Wade Boggs.

The Old Growler: I’m impressed! Getting noticed while all that was going on! But getting back to your image, how did you develop from a beer designed for women drinkers to a beer that sports stars argued about?

Ms. Miller Lite: I’m afraid I’m not the marketing people about that. All I know is that was in 1972. There were some long hot summers. I remember my friend Billy Martin talking about something called The Bronx is Burning. But that wasn’t something I cared about. I was there for the guys.

The Old Growler: Just one last question. It says on there on your side, “Inside is a pilsner beer brewed with the finest quality ingredients. Because of a unique brewing process, Miller Lite gives you more taste at only 96 calories.” And under that, it says “Same great taste.”

I’m assuming the reference to the same great taste is the taste of regular Miller beer known as Miller High Fife. But the bit about the 96 calories indeed has to do with your alcohol content. Aren’t you a little bit low in the ABVs?

Ms. Miller Lite: There you go again with those technical questions. I do wish I could tell you. What you will just have to ask the experts. I only know that I’m still trim and slim after all these years.

The Old Growler: Thanks again, ma’am. I appreciate your candor and your take on what it was like to introduce in 1972. Allow me to let you in on a secret, you’ll still be around in 30 or 40 years.

Ms. Miller Lite: Well, then it’s a good thing I put everything in a 401K rather than company stocks. Well, I’m off for some shopping, you have a good day!


In 1972 Miller bought rights to the Meister Brau line of products, including one called Lite Beer. Although Lite Beer cost less to produce than regular beers, the Miller Brewing Company positioned it as a premium beer.

          The formula for Lite Beer continued to prove a winner, primarily because of widespread, aggressive marketing. Miller’s goal was to convince the public that the low-calorie beer was as suited for men as women. Miller achieved this goal. It broke ground in the brewing industry by developing the Lo-calorie/low-carbohydrate beer and made it a national bestseller. Here is the story of how that was done.

          In 1973 Miller’s advertising agency, McCann-Erickson was given the Lite Beer account. Bob Lenz was the creative group head in charge of the account. He did the usual brand research and found that, for some reason, the beer drinkers of Anderson, Indiana, we’re head-over-heels in love with this “Lite” beer.  This friendly town in the heartland of America had taken “Lite” to its heart. Men, women, lawyers, anyone who drank beer in Anderson drank “Lite” beer. All Lenz had to do was figure out how to convince the rest of America to love low-calorie beer, too.

The first piece of the puzzle fell into place while Lenz was riding a bus in New York City. He glanced up at an advertisement for the fledgling New York Off-Track Betting business. The smiling countenance of ex-New York Jet Matt Snell smiled back at him. Lenz had worked with Snell before, so with a little convincing, Snell was the new “Lite” spokesman. That first television ad was a classic….you remember it! Lovable Matt Snell, sitting in a comfortable-looking bar room (actually Joe Allen’s in New York City) with the graphic “Matt Snell Super Bowl Hero” plastered at the bottom of the screen.

There is a massive pile of Lite beer cans on the table. Snell begins… “You know, new Lite Beer from Miller is all you ever wanted in a beer…and less.” Snell then held up a bottle of Lite and told you that it was not only low in calories, it was also low in carbohydrates! (A big topic at that time.) Finally, the camera pans back to reveal the pile of beer cans. Matt Snell offers the following (as the FCC required); “Oh, I’m not saying I drank all this beer myself. I had some help from my friends.!” (Then came the punch-line): “At six foot three, two-thirty, there’s a lot of me to fill.” That was the start of an advertising campaign that turned Miller Lite into a national institution and started the “light beer” revolution.

Learn all about Miller Lite and how it came to be

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First, let me introduce myself. I am Peter LaFrance, author of Beer Basics and Cooking & Eating With Beer, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc. – 1995). I have also been published in American Brewer, All About Beer, and Ale Street News.

I have been writing about the brewing industry since 1984. Credits include contributing editor for Restaurant Management and Top Shelf magazines. I have also written for Beverage Media, New Brewer, Beverage Dynamics, and All About Beer magazine.

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