Thursday, January 28, 2010
Heineken’s U.S. sales grew consistently with the introduction of ‘‘It’s All About the Beer.’’ The brand’s estimated sales were at 35 million cases in the mid-1990s; by 1999 that figure had grown to 47 million cases, and in 2000 Heineken saw another 10 percent increase, with sales of 54 million cases. The sales increases were seen as directly tied to Heineken’s new brand image, and the brew’s measured-media spend of an estimated $34 million in 1999 grew to $50 million by 2001. Additionally, Lowe Lintas was tapped, in 2000, to adapt the concept of the campaign for Heineken markets worldwide. Hillary Chura noted in Advertising Age, ‘‘Heineken’s game plan—to broaden the brand’s appeal—allowed the lager to break records, shatter stereotypes and register consecutive years of healthy growth.’’ Gerry Khermouch of Brandweek said of the campaign, paraphrasing Heineken’s Steve Davis, ‘‘It clicked on all three requirements for a winning campaign: it broke through, was entertaining and offered a provocative, relevant message . . . By contrast, even the best work on Bud and Miller often clicks on just the first two criteria.’’
In 2002 Heineken moved its advertising account from Lowe Lintas to D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, because Lee Garfinkel, the most instrumental figure from the outset of the campaign, had himself taken a job at D’Arcy in January of 2001. Heineken waited for Garfinkel’s non-compete clause to expire before moving its account to his new agency. D’Arcy continued the ‘‘It’s All about the Beer’’ campaign in work that paired the established beer-centered theme with holiday subject matter. Heineken changed agencies again in 2003, enlisting Publicis New York, but stayed on message, extending ‘‘It’s All About the Beer’’ in well-received TV spots as well as outdoor ads and radio spots in the following years.
‘‘It’s All About the Beer’’ premiered two weeks before the 1999 Super Bowl, during telecasts of the National Football League (NFL) conference championship games. This choice of venue was a strategic move by Heineken to counteract Anheuser-Busch’s dominance in Super Bowl advertising by achieving comparable visibility for a fraction of the cost, while effectively taking center stage as the only advertiser offering Super Bowl–quality spots during those earlier games. Further, for the big game itself Heineken skirted Anheuser-Busch’s Super Bowl exclusivity agreement with the Fox network, which prohibited other brewers from buying national airtime during the big game, by buying time on selected local affiliates. Heineken spots ran during the Super Bowl in markets that included New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta, cities accounting for 70 to 80 percent of the brand’s American sales.
In its bid to appeal to a younger and more down-toearth audience, Heineken took calculated risks of various types in the campaign’s individual spots. Commercials that broke in 1999 and ran through 2000 included ‘‘Mood Swing,’’ in which a fan in a basketball arena was shown doing something that had been unthinkable in an earlier era’s Heineken advertising: drinking the brew from a plastic cup. The dramatic crux of the spot came when the fan’s enthusiasm for his team caused him to spill his Heineken. Another spot, ‘‘The Weasel,’’ showed a man bringing a Budweiser-like beer to a house party and then filching another guest’s Heineken from the refrigerator. ‘‘Premature Pour’’ showed a man and woman pouring Heineken while eyeing one another seductively; excited, the man poured too much beer too quickly, and spilled it. ‘‘The Male Bonding Incident,’’ meanwhile, parodied heterosexual men’s hang-ups about homosexuality. The spot showed two sports-watching men accidentally holding hands while passing a Heineken bottle, before both recoiled in horror. While the sexuality and humor of these spots was in keeping with the tone of much beer advertising of the period, Heineken was almost alone among industry competitors in linking such human situations explicitly to its product. Each of the ‘‘beer moments’’ dramatized in the campaign, regardless of the human behavior exhibited, hinged on the presence not just of beer but of Heineken. Later executions of the ‘‘It’s All About the Beer’’ theme included a group of spots keyed to Heineken’s introduction of a keg-shaped can. In ‘‘The Envy,’’ which ran through 2002, two men stood next to one another at public urinals. Both set their beers on top of the receptacles, but one of the men could not stop looking at the other’s keg-shaped Heineken can. The Heineken drinker, rattled by the attention, left the restroom abruptly. In ‘‘The Poachers,’’ two friends in the checkout aisle of a supermarket stealthily moved the grocery divider on the conveyor belt so that another customer’s case of Heineken would be included among their own purchases.
In its push to broaden its market in America, Heineken necessarily took aim at beer-industry heavyweights such as Anheuser-Busch and its flagship brew, Budweiser. Anheuser-Busch, in addition to possessing an almost 50 percent market share of the country’s beer market, had an advertising budget far larger than those of its nearest competitors. Despite declining sales of Budweiser, the brewer continued to support the ‘‘King of Beers’’ with blockbuster ad campaigns in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Budweiser commercials featuring talking frogs that croaked ‘‘Budweiser’’ in combination with one another gave way to a competing cast of lizards and an evolving swamp-creatures storyline, and then Budweiser made an even bigger splash with ‘‘Whassup?!’’ a campaign featuring a group of friends who greeted one another using the idiosyncratic, slang question that gave the campaign its name. A true measure of Heineken’s success, in the eyes of industry commentators, was the fact that, during this time, Anheuser-Busch used a ‘‘Whassup?!’’ spot to poke fun at stereotypical Heineken drinkers, thereby acknowledging its much smaller competitor as a threat. In the commercial, preppy types greeted each other with a hyper-articulate rendering of ‘‘How are you doing?’’ while drinking beer from green bottles clearly meant to suggest Heineken. Corona Extra doubled its share of the American import market between 1995 and 2000, going from a 13.5 percent market share to 27.3 percent and overtaking Heineken as the country’s best-selling import. The brand’s marketing strategy, which attempted to make the Mexican beer synonymous with seaside relaxation and escape from the everyday, was widely credited with providing fuel for such rapid growth. Taglines such as ‘‘Miles Away from Ordinary’’ and ‘‘Go Someplace Better’’ ran in concert with beach scenery, as Corona extended its tried-and-true advertising formula into the early years of the millennium.