Miller Lite

Branding turns Lite into the first successful light beer 

Much of Walter Landor’s early success stemmed from the package design, trademarks, and branding he did for clients in the beverage industry, beginning in the late 1940s and continuing for nearly 50 years. Landor established and maintained long-running associations with brewery clients such as Rainier and Falstaff, wineries including Mission Bell and Gallo, and distilleries like Stitzel-Weller, maker of Old Fitzgerald bourbon.

Due in no small part to its work in this field, Landor Associates grew from a regional West Coast design company to a national enterprise. In addition, projects in the beverage industry often served as a springboard for Landor to expand into new geographic regions and diverse industries, such as commercial aviation, financial services, and consumer goods.


Introducing a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beer

By the early 1970s, Miller Brewing Company, a subsidiary of Philip Morris, was well acquainted with the work produced on board the ferryboat Klamath. Not only had Landor redesigned the packaging for nearly every Philip Morris cigarette brand, including Benson & Hedges and Marlboro, it had also created new labels for Miller Ale, Miller Malt Liquor, and Miller High Life.1 All three beer label designs featured Miller’s classic script signature along with the distinctive scroll beneath the name.

Consequently, when Miller bought the Peter Hand Brewery of Chicago in 1972 and began producing a low-calorie beer based on one of Hand’s recipes a few years later, it was natural that the company should turn to Landor Associates to create the branding and package design for Lite.2

Lite came on the market at a time when local and regional breweries were on the decline, their products being supplanted by those of national firms. These national brands had become so dominant that by the late 1970s, the five largest breweries produced nearly 75 percent of all the beer sold in the United States.3


The work at Landor

The Landor team knew that the best branding solutions relied on the expertise of specialists from many fields.4 At Landor, the old tried-and-true methods had evolved into a well-planned, scientific approach to marketing communications. Miller and Landor collaborated on consumer research, testing, financial planning, distribution, and advertising, creating an aggressively competitive philosophy for the new brand.

Miller’s goal was to convince American male beer drinkers that it was acceptable to order and enjoy a low-calorie beer. According to a report in Brewers Digest, the visual elements for Lite needed to “communicate masculinity and ‘beeriness’ and give the Lite brand an impressive visual impact.”5 In addition, Miller Brewing wanted to add Lite to its existing family of beers without cutting into the sales of its other products.

To achieve this, Landor needed to position Lite as a high-quality beer appropriate for two very different audiences: women and the weight-conscious, who would be more likely to accept a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beverage; and the regular beer drinker, “who is looking for flavor, yet wants less-filling, less-fattening benefits of a lighter beer.”6 The design needed to emphasize Lite’s quality ingredients and promote a flavor that would appeal to both groups.


The primary design element for the Landor team to develop was the lettering style for the brand name. A gothic or Germanic script would convey to consumers that this new beer was directly rooted in German brewing traditions. Landor’s George McLean, a specialist with years of experience in hand-drawn lettering, was responsible for creating “the custom-designed calligraphy with its Germanic origin [that] strongly suggests the tradition of excellence associated with Miller.”7

Next, the designers worked on incorporating primary colors into an elongated bull’s-eye that would capture viewers’ attention. Golden grains and hops were placed in a red oval field inside a ring of blue carrying the words “A Fine Pilsner Beer.” The label’s illustrations depicted the major ingredients used in flavoring beer: barley, wheat, and hops. These were rendered in gold to suggest the richness and high quality of the new brew.8


Lastly, an appropriate background needed to be chosen for the packaging and labels. Here Landor’s experts drew on their long experience with frozen food packaging and selected a white background. This would visually communicate to consumers the lightness of reduced calories as well as the purity of natural ingredients.9 White also eliminated any potential color conflicts with the name or the bull’s-eye motif.

The classic Miller script with its distinctive scroll was conspicuously absent here. Miller Brewing’s marketers may have felt that without this traditional element, consumers would be sure to ask for the beer by the one name that did appear on its package: Lite.10

Landor’s marketing team helped position Miller Lite among the other national brands. The label design for the new beer satisfied Miller Brewing both at an aesthetic level and because it communicated “quality, great taste, and less-filling to the beer drinker.”11

“Everything you wanted in a beer”

The phenomenal success of Miller Lite created a sensation in the brewing industry. Lite’s appeal with beer drinkers caused sales to rocket, and Miller Brewing moved from being the country’s seventh largest brewery in 1972 to second largest in 1977.12 Shortly after Miller introduced Lite, other national breweries came out with their own low-calorie beers. In spite of the competition, Lite remained the top-selling low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beer for nearly two decades.13

The beer’s triumph in the marketplace also brought accolades for Landor. The design for Lite received national attention, and the label was “accepted for exhibition in the annual awards show of the Art Directors Club of Los Angeles and Art Direction of New York.”14 The judges observed that Lite’s label made it appear more like a regular beer than a low-calorie product.

The advertising campaign to promote Miller Lite proved to be as successful as its design.15 In general, beer drinkers tend to remain loyal to a particular brand. As a new beer entering the market, Lite needed to send a strong message to consumers that would convince them to try something different. Landor’s packaging and label design completed Lite’s look and appeal. In keeping with its aggressive promotion, Lite was billed not only as a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate beer aimed at women and the weight conscious, but as a new choice for traditional beer drinkers.

Whether a brand name is an invented word or a personal name, the “brand names [and] packaging … make their distinctive contributions to the success of the package.”16 In a 1982 television interview, Walter Landor summed up the factors behind Miller Lite’s popularity this way:

It’s a light beer. No, we’re not saying it design wise, we’re making a rather heavy, bold, Germanic lettering for the word Lite. It contradicts the spirit of the word, intentionally. We are saying to people, this is a full-bodied, full-flavored beer.17

Though Miller Lite is no longer brand-new, it remains an outstandingly successful brand, a tribute to the solid partnership between Miller Brewing and Landor Associates.


About the author

Guest author Bernie Gallagher is senior documentation specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. His expertise lies in data mapping historical object information for museum publications and museum web projects.

Bernie has worked at the museum for over 20 years, overseeing the cataloging of objects by curators, specialists, volunteers, and interns and maintaining proper data standards in the database systems. His specialties include the collections of information technology and communications and work and industry.

Bernie earned an MA in history museum studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, where he wrote his thesis on Walter Landor, “A Brand Is Built in the Mind: Walter Landor and the Transformation of Industrial Design in the Twentieth Century.” His research and subsequent thesis form the basis of this article.



1. Ken Kelley and Rick Clogher, “The Ultimate Image Maker,” San Francisco Focus (August 1992), 117.

2. Michael Gershman, Getting It Right the Second Time (Addison-Wesley, 1990), 64–5.

3. Kenneth G. Elzinga, “The Beer Industry,” in Walter Adams (ed.), The Structure of American Industry, 6th ed., (MacMillan, 1982), 224. 

4. Mary C. Colburn, “Lite & Selectra; Two Beers with Designs on the Future,” Brewers Digest (October 1975), reprint from the Landor Archive Project, Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

5,6 See note 4. 

7. George McLean, interview by Jessica Myerson (25 May 1993), transcript from the Landor Archive Project, Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

8,9 See note 4. 

10. William Flanagan, “The Charge of the Lite Brigade,” Esquire (18 July 1978), 81.

11. See note 4.

12. See note 10, Flanagan, 73; see also FundingUniverse, “Miller Brewing Company,” (accessed 23 March 2012).

13. Stuart Elliott, “Advertising: With its fourth Miller Lite campaign in three years, an agency hopes consumers are thirsty for change,” New York Times (3 November 1994). (accessed 21 March 2012).

14. See note 4.

15. Miller Brewing Company, press release (23 July 1973), Landor Archive Project, Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

16. Stanley Sacharow, The Package as a Marketing Tool (Chilton Book Company, 1982), 121.

17. “Walter Landor,” reported by Peter Bannon, Eyewitness News, WAGA-TV, Channel 5, Atlanta, (4 October 1982), Landor Archive Project, Landor Design Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.



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