Heineken USA Inc.

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Heineken USA Inc.

360 Hamilton Ave., Ste. 1103
White Plains, New York 10601
Telephone: (914) 681-4100
Fax: (914) 681-1900
Web site: www.heineken.com



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1990s Heineken beer (imported from Dutch parent company Heineken NV and sold in America by Heineken USA Inc.) had an outdated image.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, youth-conscious 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.


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.


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 urban-dwelling 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.


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.


"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-to-earth 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.


During the first year of the "It's All about the Beer" campaign, Heineken and ad agency Lowe Lintas also linked the beer to the movie Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, which starred comic Mike Myers as a lusty, mod-style British detective. Though this marketing effort was separate from "It's All about the Beer," it was coordinated with the overall goal of broadening Heineken's reach among young people. The beer maker bought product-placement rights in the movie and ran a television spot in which Powers was shown receiving a massage from an attractive woman. "Why did you stop?" Powers asked the masseuse when she paused in her work. "I was just admiring your Heine," she answered, speaking of his beer, not his body. The eight-week promotional effort was considered an integral part of the successful push—anchored by "It's All about the Beer"—to appeal to younger drinkers.


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.


Beirne, Mike. "Heineken Seeing More Green on TV, In-Store." Brandweek, November 10, 2003.

――――――. "Heineken's New Summer Creative Is a Case of Déjà vu All Over Again." Brandweek, July 1—July 8, 2002.

Chura, Hillary. "Heineken Sips Success." Advertising Age, October 22, 2001.

Elliott, Stuart. "Favoring Creativity, Heineken Will Take Its U.S. Campaign to a World Audience." New York Times, May 25, 2000.

Halleron, Chris. "Heineken USA." Beverage World, May 15, 2001.

Khermouch, Gerry. "It's All about the Beer Ads." Brandweek, October 16, 2000.

Lippert, Barbara. "Last Laugh: Lowe Crafts a Final Round of Sly, Subtle Work for Heineken." Adweek, April 22, 2002.

Mack, Ann M., and Kathleen Sampey. "At Publicis, It Ain't Easy Being Green." Adweek, June 2, 2003.

McCarthy, Michael. "Risky 'Premature Pour' Ad Sells Beer with Sex, Humor." USA Today, July 24, 2000.

Sampey, Kathleen. "Reason to Be Jolly." Brandweek, October 28, 2002.

Theodore, Sarah. "Rising Star." Beverage Industry, July 2002.

Weinbach, Jonathan B. "Heineken Orchestrates Super Bowl Play." Wall Street Journal, January 22, 1999.

                                                Mark Lane