HEINEKEN SEEN MOVING TO QUALITY PITCH VIA LOWE: TWO SLOW-SELLING AMSTEL BREWS MAY PROVE CASUALTIES IN REVIEW

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Heineken USA, with a new agency and facing a challenge to its import beer supremacy, is likely to instill a quality message into the twentysomething-oriented advertising campaign for its flagship brew.

Elsewhere in Heineken USA's stable, new imports Amstel Bier and Amstel 1870 face an uncertain future after expansion plans were postponed.

The sweeping marketing assessment is tied to last week's selection of Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, for Heineken USA's $40 million account, replacing Wells BDDP. Heineken's official reason for the switch was Wells' acquisition by Omnicom Group, whose DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, is lead agency for Anheuser-Busch.

RED STAR WANING

After two years of running ads featuring the red star icon and offbeat conversations between off-screen characters, Heineken USA wants a campaign that positions the brand as a unique and high-quality product.

"We've done a lot in terms of making ourselves more relevant" to young adults, said Steve Davis, VP-marketing. But "we've also struggled with keeping ourselves special."

Last year, Corona Extra, marketed in the U.S. by Barton Beers and Gambrinus Co., ousted Heineken from its longtime rank as No. 1 import, 39.3 million cases to 39.1 million cases, according to industry newsletter Impact. Heineken USA has told wholesalers that dollar volume, where the brand still leads the segment, is more important than sales volume.

New Heineken creative should break this fall.

DUMPING 2 NEW BREWS?

In another potential shift, Heineken USA may dump Amstel Bier and Amstel 1870, introduced less than a year ago in seven markets.

While expressing pleasure with the brands' performance, Mr. Davis said: "We have a number of options, ranging from keeping them . . . to not making them available at all."

Wholesalers have expressed disappointment with sales of the two brands, and rumors are rife they will be gone soon. A planned expansion already has been delayed.

Heineken USA also is dumping Garrison Boyd, a fictional moral watchdog who appeared in a $20 million marketing campaign for the Amstel beers.

Lowe is hiring up to 14 former Wells employees-chiefly in media-to handle the brands, said agency Co-Chairman Marvin Sloves. Former Wells Account Manager Michael Silver once again will lead on Heineken, though his title hasn't been determined.

SMOOTH TRANSITION

The importer is bringing staff over to ensure a smooth transition, a Heineken USA spokesman said.

Ironically, Lowe parent Interpublic Group of Cos. is acquiring Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis, which handles Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams. Boston Beer President Jim Koch took shots at Heineken when the craft brew was taking off in the 1980s.

"There's no conflict at all; we're so far removed from the other IPG shops," Mr. Sloves said.

Contributing: Laura Petrecca.

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