Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Heineken’s effort to expand the U.S. market for its beer depended on appealing to younger drinkers. As Beverage Industry noted, ‘‘a 25-year-old averages 65 gallons of beer per year, while a 55-year-old sips 15 gallons.’’ Among 21 to 35 year olds Heineken particularly focused on urbandwelling trendsetters, ordinary but sophisticated beer drinkers. Davis told Brandweek that Heineken’s ideal consumers were younger people ‘‘who tend to be opinion leaders. They are visible, self-confident, and risk-takers.’’ The brewer also needed to counteract these drinkers’ perception that Heineken was a beer strictly for special occasions in bars and restaurants but not for everyday, off-premise consumption. To thus broaden its appeal, the brand had to strike a delicate balance between its hard-won image as a superior product and its desire to appear more ordinary.
‘‘It’s All About the Beer’’ accordingly used irreverent humor while showing the product, in television spots, being consumed in settings far less rarefied than those traditionally associated with the brand. The campaign focused on universal ‘‘beer moments,’’ occasions when the presence of Heineken significantly affected otherwise ordinary behavior. This approach enabled the brand to show its lighter, more populist side, while also managing to keep the focus on the high quality of its beer.
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.
In the 1990s Heineken beer (imported from Dutch parent company Heineken NV and sold in America by Heineken USA Inc.) had an outdated image. An icon of 1980s luxury and excess, Heineken had not adapted to changing trends in the United States. Heineken USA understood that its future growth hinged on making the brand more approachable in the U.S. market and on connecting with the beer industry’s all-important audience of 21 to 35 year olds. The company also wanted to maintain its reputation for superior beer. Enlisting agency Lowe & Partners (later called Lowe Lintas & Partners), Heineken in 1999 launched an advertising campaign that balanced these prerogatives while reinventing the brand’s image.
‘‘It’s All About the Beer’’—the central component of Heineken USA’s estimated measured-media spend of $34 million for 1999—focused on so-called ‘‘beer moments,’’ situations in ordinary life that became dramatic or otherwise noteworthy because of the presence of Heineken. With irreverent humor and down-to-earth backdrops, the new television spots took Heineken off its pedestal and communicated an updated, youthconscious sensibility. At the same time, as the campaign’s tagline and theme suggested, the commercials’ focus was solidly on the quality of the beer itself.
The campaign helped fuel consistent increases in Heineken sales and was credited with positioning the beer for healthy long-term growth. These successes were likewise reflected in increased ad spending, as the brand’s measured-media budget grew to an estimated $50 million by 2001. Despite changing agencies twice in two years, Heineken stuck with the ‘‘It’s All about the Beer’’ concept and tagline and continued to target a youthful audience in the following years.