Heineken Switching U.S. Agencies as It Pursues Global Effort

Brewer Calls a Shootout Between Publicis, Wieden for Struggling Brand

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Heineken USA is pulling Euro RSCG as the agency of record for its flagship Heineken and Heineken Light brands, and launching a contest between Publicis and Wieden & Kennedy for the brands as it pursues a global strategy.

The competition, to be concluded by mid-May, comes as the importer seeks to align its U.S. advertising with the efforts of its Netherlands-based global parent. The move will mark the fifth creative agency for Heineken lager since 2006, as the brand has struggled to emerge from a long-running sales slump. It's also the first big change under new Chief Marketing Officer Lesya Lysyj, a former Kraft Foods marketer who took the reigns at White Plains, N.Y.-based Heineken USA in February.

"We've got this great global strategy that need to find the best partner to help us translate that to the U.S. market," Ms. Lysyj told Ad Age. "What we're looking to do is consolidate the business under one of the two agencies that work on the Heineken brand globally," she said, adding that "we think that approach makes the most sense given where we are going as an overall worldwide company."

The pitch will be handled out of the New York offices of both agencies. The importer is already tapping the global approach in the U.S. for Heineken, running TV commercials by Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam, called "Open Your World" that position the Heineken drinker as a worldly, confident and open-minded consumer. The spots are running in some 50 countries. The brewer has worked with the Paris office of Publicis on tactical ads and print work, said Alexis Nasard, its global chief commercial officer. "It's an agency that actually can operate with a lot of creative agility," he said, noting that they have deftly navigated around rules in some countries such as Russia that prohibit showing people drinking beer in ads.

Heineken lager had $58 million in domestic measured media spending last year. All Heineken USA brands had $124 million in domestic measured media spending in 2010, according to Kantar Media.

Euro RSCG, which won the Heineken brands in 2009, will remain the agency of record for Dos Equis, which has enjoyed big growth thanks to the popular "Most Interesting Man in the World" campaign. But the Heineken brand has struggled in the U.S., with shipments dropping 4.9% in 2010 and market share declining from 2.3% in 2008 to 2% in 2010, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. If Wieden & Kennedy wins, it'll be getting a second crack at the brand, after running a campaign as recently as 2008.

Wieden is a "very progressive, creatively driven organization ... and I think as a client you have to embrace that and I'm not sure we were as ready for that a couple of years ago as we are now," said Ms. Lysyj, noting that she wasn't at the importer when those decisions were made. Said Mr. Nasard: "Changing agencies this frequently is not great, let's admit that, however when we do it behind the principle of global consistency with an exiting basis of coloration and a well-defined brand strategy and campaign, you'd hope the chances for endurance would be higher."

The new agency's first task will be Heineken Light, which for now is only sold in the U.S. and whose sales at grocery have dropped 14% in the year ending March. 20, according to SymphonyIRI, which does not include liquor stores and Walmart. The importer is looking to replace the "See the Light" campaign with a new effort this summer.

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