BOCA RATON, FL: MillerCoors, the brewing group, is taking a nuanced approach to countering the decline in light beer sales, mixing big marketing initiatives with activities to maintain top-of-mind presence for its brands.

Brittnye Dougherty, director/brand and consumer insights at MillerCoors, discussed some of the challenges facing light beer at The Market Research Event, an event held by the Institute for International Research (IIR).

"It's a mature segment, it's the largest segment in beer and - unfortunately for us - it's declining," she said. (For more, including why researching rival brands is important, read Warc's exclusive report: Advertising in a declining category: insights from MillerCoors.)

Figures from Impact Databank suggest light beer sales fell by 3.5% to 98.4m barrels in 2013. It also forecast a further decline of 4.9m barrels by the close of 2015, taking the segment to its lowest volumes in a decade.

Such unfavourable trends were largely replicated by the entire beer market, where demand - excluding non-alcoholic beers - dipped by 1.5% to 195m barrels, whereas wine and spirits both grew by more than 40%.

Within the beer sector itself, craft beers are posing an increasingly tough challenge to established brands, with sales rising by 18% over the period to July 2014, according to the Brewers' Association.

In response, MillerCoors has run eye-catching campaigns such as releasing limited-edition versions of the iconic Miller Lite can from the 1970s for a tie-up with the movie Anchorman 2, a move then extended to bottles and taps.

Moving beyond generic messaging and tapping "unique, ownable core equities", Dougherty reported, remains the ideal.

"That seems very intuitive … but when you have relevance issues, I think there's a tendency sometimes to put those equities in the backseat, hold a mirror up to your consumers and do some shared values lifestyle advertising."

Alongside these programs, however, it is important for Miller Lite to ensure it is at the forefront of customer thinking at the day-to-day level, given many shoppers now have a more functional relationship with light beer.

"Light beer KPIs have really been showing increased vulnerability over time, and this is particularly true for us in terms of imagery," said Dougherty.

"So we're all about making sure that we're maintaining consumer imagery, maintaining top-of-mind awareness, maintaining consideration and loyalty."

Data sourced from Warc