Heineken Wants Face Time With Its Manhattan Agency

Oddly, It's a Digital World That Prompted Brewer to Limit Review to Local Shops

By Published on .

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Heineken USA raised eyebrows in the agency world last week by throwing the creative account for its flagship lager brands into review and announcing it was only considering shops in Manhattan (New York, not Kansas), where it is launching a marketing headquarters for the business.

Source: Beer Marketer's Insights
Such a condition runs contrary to a decades-long trend in which advances in communications such as e-mail and videoconferencing have tended to render geography less important in agency selection. But Heineken, and at least one of the agencies vying for the estimated $110 million business, said the opposite is becoming true: The advent of integrated campaigns across an ever-increasing number of channels means more face time than ever is required.

Andrew Benett, co-CEO of Heineken hopeful Euro RSCG, New York, said this is the third pitch in the past month to put a premium on agency location, citing ConocoPhillips and Liberty Mutual, though neither of those marketers was so specific as to limit contenders to a single city.

"[Geography] is becoming more and more important again," Mr. Benett said. "Collaboration is essential for a successful partnership, and in-person meetings do make a big, big difference."

But there's a lot of debate about whether that can also be unnecessarily limiting. "It's sort of silly to reduce a review to just one city, because you cut yourself out of a lot of great resources," said Russel Wohlwerth of search consultancy Ark Advisors. "Yes, it's more complex today, and big brands need a number of agencies in order to handle everything. It's hard to find them all in one market and still get the best ones."

Time zone a concern
Still, Mr. Wohlwerth said while not many clients insist on considering agencies only within the 23 square miles of Manhattan, more and more clients are making time zone a major consideration. "Clients are saying, 'I want someone within an hour,'" he said. "As overwhelmed as they are, there's a lot less tolerance of hassles getting a hold of someone."

Heineken doesn't figure to have that problem after it chooses among the New York offices of Euro, TBWA/Chiat/Day, StrawberryFrog and Wieden & Kennedy, whose Portland, Ore.-based headquarters has handled the account since late 2007. Wieden won the business without a review after Heineken fired another New York shop, Berlin Cameron United, after only nine months.

While it's hardly clear that distance is the culprit, the Wieden-Heineken marriage has always appeared to be a rocky one. The agency's first campaign, dubbed "Share the Good," which portrayed Heineken Premium Light as a global movement, was quickly shelved last summer.

It also took the agency nearly a year to get its first ads for Heineken Lager on the air. That campaign -- dubbed "Give yourself a good name" -- began airing in January with a series of spots starring actor John Turturro.

More recently, the brand has been airing two spots, one from Wieden featuring a number of partygoers singing along to Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" in a taxi, and a year-old effort from TBWA that aired in Europe and became something of a YouTube phenomenon.

Fewer pints
All that inconsistency hasn't helped the brand. Sales of Heineken and Heineken Premium Light declined nearly 12% in grocery, drug and liquor stores through April 19, according to Information Resources Inc., following a steep sales decline in 2008.

White Plains, N.Y.-based Heineken has said only that having its marketing headquarters in New York will allow it to better collaborate with its agencies, which also include G2 and MediaVest, and keep it better attuned to its consumers; New York is the brand's largest market.

Euro's Mr. Benett -- whose agency already handles Dos Equis for Heineken -- wouldn't elaborate on how that collaboration would extend beyond traditional advertising and branded entertainment, but he hinted that it would be substantial. "It's not Tide, and we're not reformulating products," he said. "But we do get involved with them pretty far upstream with regards to marketing communication. It's well beyond the realm of traditional advertising."

Another round?

If Wieden & Kennedy is unsuccessful in its bid to defend its Heineken account, the iconic imported beer will have its fourth agency since 2006. Here's a look at some of the most prolific agency-hopping brands during that period.


  • Publicis USA, Berlin Cameron United
  • Wieden & Kennedy




* Currently under review

Most Popular