Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The first barrels of Heineken reached the United States in the 1880s, and by 1972 the brand had become America’s top imported beer. Heineken’s fortunes in America improved even further in the 1980s, as it, like other luxury items, was a prime beneficiary of the conspicuous consumption for which that decade was known, a cultural trend that was especially pronounced in Heineken’s biggest market, New York City. Heineken likewise adapted, in the 1980s, to the emerging light-beer phenomenon, introducing Amstel Light and imbuing it with an upscale image similar to that of its older sibling. Marketing on Heineken’s behalf had long been geared toward making the brand a status symbol and identifying it as the beer of choice for urban sophisticates.
Heineken’s pedestal positioning did not serve it as well in the 1990s, however. Sales slumped, and the company struggled to craft an up-to-date image for the beer that would make it relevant to a new generation of younger drinkers. ‘‘We had an aging franchise,’’ Heineken’s senior vice president of marketing, Steve Davis, told Beverage Industry. ‘‘We didn’t conjure up in consumers’ minds much energy and excitement, and we were becoming kind of ‘your father’s Oldsmobile.’ We got high marks from everybody saying we were a great beer; what they weren’t saying is that we were a great beer for them.’’ The company recognized that, if it were to increase its U.S. market share, it needed to mute its elitist image and win over young domestic-beer drinkers. After an unsuccessful marketing campaign designed to make the red star on Heineken’s label an icon comparable to Nike’s ‘‘swoosh’’ symbol, Heineken initiated an agency search, dismissing Wells Rich Greene and hiring Lowe & Partners of New York (which later merged with Ammirati Puris Lintas to become Lowe Lintas & Partners), whose chief creative officer, Lee Garfinkel, had previously helmed an effort that successfully recast Mercedes, in much the way Heineken hoped to reinvent itself, as a more approachable brand.