Tag Archives: beer

What’s up with Heineken USA?

Heineken USA has gone from being one of the few success stories in the beer industry here to being a brand that changes ad agencies every five minutes.

When i worked on Budweiser, Heineken was the enemy.

Bud drinkers would frequently ditch the brand in higher profile social situations like night clubs in favor of the green bottle from Amsterdam.

Because it was perceived as more sophisticated.

But that was before the A-B/InBev merger.

And now A-B has its own Heineken: Stella Artois.

Stella is a potential Heineken killer in this country.

It looks and feels more sophisticated and European.

Suddenly Heineken doesn’t look so hot anymore.

It feels a bit like a relic from the 90s.

And being perceived as “old” can be death for a beer brand.

At least that’s what I’m guessing is going on here.

Coming soon: purely theoretical beer!

I snapped these this morning. I remember when A-B introduced Michelob Ultra Light a few years back. it was the first ultra-light beer. they wisely chose Michelob instead of Bud to do this line extension. We at the agency used to refer to it as “wet air”. it was spectacularly lacking in substance. I wasn’t a fan of the taste. but it was surprisingly successful. especially among the over 40 crowd. it started a trend. or rather continued an existing trend.

the trend among american beer drinkers has been towards ever lighter beers (lagers) since the early 1980s. the revival of craft brewing here being perhaps a reaction to this. Samuel Adams certainly made hay by being the anti-big brewery. I won’t even go into their, ahem, questionable brewing practices. That train has sailed baby!

now i know there are those out there (European visitors especially!) who make fun of American beer. And some of that is justified. But tastes are what they are. You can’t fight that.

Although, at a certain point, it’s no longer beer anymore. it’s beer flavored water. And you certainly could argue that we may have reached that point. Like now!

(we’re the least beer you can drink!)

(no, we are!)

Confusing beer ad of the day. Numero Tre

It would appear Chicago is beset by an attack of enigmatic and baffling and let’s face it, boring beer ads. Perhaps it’s a stealth move by the spirits industry to create a state of stultification among beer drinkers and curb demand for beer. who knows.

today’s entrant is for Peroni, a very pleasant light lager from Italy that is gaining traction over here. In Chicago at least. It appears to be riding Stella Artois’ coat tails to an extent. the future looks bright for this beer IMHO. so what the hell is going on in this ad? a wee ribbon on the label is spun out so it collides/melds with a dominatrix-looking stiletto heeled boot. i have seen other iterations of this campaign. where the wee ribbon attaches itself to vaguely italian things. on the upside it’s more graphic than the previous perplexers. but it’s very far from exciting the viewer into a froth of thirst.

as i’ve previously posted, selling beer is about creating the right vibe. and furthermore with booze, it’s all in your head! so how about creating advertising that has a chance of getting into beer drinker’s heads?

A Heineken ad we like

I used to have this self-imposed rule when i worked on beer: no grown men acting like excited children over beer in my ads. It just bothered me. This ad violates that rule but works nonetheless. Think the ad, like the beer, was produced in Holland. 3.6 million youtube views! so it must be working.

How to crack an alien culture. Part 2

(This is part 2 of an ongoing series. You can read part one here)

You could argue that the German culture is the opposite of the Irish culture. We both like a beer or twelve but there the similarities pretty much end. Oh and we both share an historical animosity towards the English (the Germans’ cousins btw. Anglo-SAXONS…innit).

So when my partner and I got an assignment to create a Volkswagen ad to run in Germany, i felt nervous. The good part was we got to party in Berlin in the middle of summer for two weeks. The Berlin office of the international ad agency we worked for, headed by inestimable Amir Kassaei, felt that bringing in outsider perspectives would be a good thing. So an “American” team (us) and a crazy good Dutch team (Bart Kooij and Nico Akkerman) worked together. Well it started out as work and quickly degenerated into play. Berlin in the summer is a great place. After a briefing at the agency and a trip to the really cool VW factory in Wolfsburg we settled into a routine of going to bars and cafes and drinking beer and chatting and coming up with ideas. 15 hours a day! The Dutch clearly are prone to dehydration.

i soon emerged as the killjoy wet blanket who felt the need to do something culturally apt. Our Dutch counterparts worked on the Volkswagen business and knew the client well. so the conditions were good.

and then i went and did something so spectacularly stupid and awful that i cannot repeat it in this blog. but it had the effect of me falling in love with Germany and Germans in an instant. if you really need to know what it was i will be happy to email you. but the memory of it still pains me. it is not for public consumption.

the net/net effect was that i was suddenly really motivated to make Germany feel good. that was the silver lining. anyway the commercial below was the idea of ours that was chosen by the client. And i have to say Amir and company did a great job with the execution. I remember being emailed the final spot, which i wasn’t even aware had been shot, and being prepared to wince. And was actually pleasantly surprised. The director Sebastian Strasser did a great job. And i would like to apologize to Sebastian’s production company for the infamous “Felix Glauner Incident” at the Berlin Art Directors awards show dinner one year later. I will also be happy to email you the excruciating details of that one if you really must know. Again, too painful to recount here.

Turns out I have a knack for annoying Germans. But they like my ads. This commercial was a big hit in Germany. And then ran all over over Europe. It was the fifth most awarded commercial in the world in 2005. I like this one because i consider it the cultural equivalent of a German guy working on a Guinness ad for Ireland. And somehow it all worked. I was surprised, put it that way.

How to sell alcoholic drinks

The recent revivification of Wassup! has made me nostalgic for my beer advertising days. I, and several other Escape Podders spent years working in that category. Personally I loved it. And not just because I got to drink a lot of free beer. OK, that was part of it, but it was also great fun selling fun. And on a big scale. For many years Superbowl season – half the year basically – was our focus. Win the Superbowl! At all costs!

I was also attracted to working in the category because I’m good at it and I know that i’m good at it. How do I know I’m good at it? I spent my formative years working in a very busy pub in Ireland. And in that time I got to learn a a huge lesson first-hand: you have to create the right environment, the one that induces drinking. that’s the whole trick.

For example, the pub i worked in had carpeting everywhere. just like your house does. it had comfortable seating. just like your house does. but your house doesn’t have a bar in it. and it’s probably cold and windy and raining outside anyway. so staying in the pub wins, going home to your house loses!

But the interesting thing about the pub – The Lion’s Tower, so named because it stood near a tower of the same name in the old medieval city wall – was that it started out as a terrible pub.

The owners had a vision of the kind of bar they themselves would like to drink in. And that vision was upscale. The bartenders wore waistcoats and bow ties initially. Inoffensive muzak played quietly in the background. And it worked. The pub attracted people like the owners. Middle aged middle class couples out for a drink to get away from the kids. The only problem was they drank f**k all. maybe six drinks between the two of them all night. and as you can imagine, it was crushingly boring to work there. there was no action.

After a couple of excruciating and not very profitable years like this, it dawned on the owners that young Irish people drank a hell of a lot more than their parents. Ireland had inherited England’s stupid World War One licensing laws. all pubs shut before midnight. consequently people (young irish people!) were drinking against the clock. and boy could they drink! it was pure insanity.

so out went the bow ties and waistcoats. and in came much better and much louder music and cool lighting. same comfy furnishings. and boom! the place went nuts. the legal drinking age was 18. but it was loosely enforced. suddenly, we had to hire bouncers to keep order. the scent of your dad’s cologne was replaced by the occasional pungent whiff of hash. we were selling hundreds of kegs of beer a week. we would get through a hundred kegs of guinness alone. each keg with ninety pints in it. 100 x 90 = 9000 pints of guinness alone each week. one year we went through ten thousand pounds worth of pint glasses alone. this was back in the ’80s. that was a lot of money and a mind-boggling amount of broken pint glasses.

This place was hopping like I’ve never seen since. you’d think we were giving it away. there were two bars in the pub. A straight up long bar against a wall and an oval bar. I favored working the oval bar. because the place was so packed it felt like you were on stage. Everyone desperately vying for your attention. and we were the fastest bartenders in town. to this day it irks me to see a bartender take just one customer’s order at a time. we would do three orders at a time and fill them at the same time in the most efficient manner possible. to stay hydrated we drank southern comfort and coke.

And because I was in my teens, and it kind of happened in slow motion, over years, it made a huge impression on me. we went from being a dead ghost town to being the biggest hit pub in a town with a lot of really great pubs. For example, there was a pub down the road called “The King’s Head”. It was the oldest pub in town. It got its name because the original owner was the guy who actually chopped King Charles III’s head off. That pub, and exile to ireland, was the executioner’s reward. Hence the name. There are lots of English pubs that have that same name. but this pub earned it the hard way. by chopping off a king’s head. that’s hardcore good pub heritage. that’s tough to compete with.

Soooooooooooo…years later, when i finally got the chance to do a tv ad for beer, i came preloaded with the real-world knowledge of what it takes to sell a lot of beer: you create the right vibe, it happens.

Maybe not unsurprisingly, the very first bud light commercial i created was a big hit — no bow ties or waistcoats to be seen! and it was named best beer spot of the year by Ad Age. i was back selling beer again. albeit on a much bigger scale than The Lion’s Tower. and the Lion’s Tower was a very busy pub. so that’s really saying something.