Heineken Nights, embarassing daze

By Published on .

Advertiser: Heineken
Agency: Wells Rich Greene BDDP, New York
Rating: 2 1/2 stars

So some PCP-addled wretch starts beating his girlfriend and waving a gun around, and the police show up with a camera crew, and jump him and cuff him.

Then three months later the incident has become a "Cops" segment, and you're looking straight into the suspect's droopy, bloodshot eyes, and you realize, good God . . . he signed a release.

You can almost see a producer shoving a clipboard at him for a signature, and the goof breaking into a crooked grin: "You mean, I get to be on TV?!"

Yeah, dipstick, now you can be a televised sociopathic loser.

Now, hold that thought as we turn to a Heineken beer campaign with a novel premise: to communicate Heineken's "authenticity" (vs. gimmicky microbrews) by letting viewers eaves-drop on what real people in real social situations say under the influence of real beer.

To do this, Wells Rich Greene BDDP staged Heineken Nights, wiring whole rooms for sound and capturing actual conversations later to be transcribed and performed by actors. Never mind the dubious connection between authentic dialogue and authentic beer; the documentary exercise has yielded remarkable slices of conversational life.

In one, we hear a guy bragging about his new ultra-equipped computer system, component by high-power component.

"That's psychotic," his friend says. "What are you gonna do with all that?"

"I don't know," the first guy replies. "Go online. Meet girls."

Another spot listens in on a man who cannot believe his date doesn't know who wrote "Moby Dick." "Look," she snaps, "I don't know who the [beep tone] wrote `Moby [beeping] Dick,' OK?"

Then there's the one set in Santa Monica, Calif.

He (shouting over the blaring music): "Hey, what's hap-pen-innnn'?! I was checkin' you out from over there . . ."

She (also shouting): "Stay over there."

He: "You are SO beautiful!"

She: "Shut up."

He: "I was just . . . you know . . . maybe . . . you know, maybe you and me . . ."

She: "No."

He: "Oh, you are SO HOT! Oh, with that dress on you, and your hair, and the lights, comin' and seein' you, and your eyes. Are those sandals?"

She: "You're an idiot."

He: "All riiiight! Have a good night!"

Incredible, no? Incredible that cartoon characters do indeed roam the bars of L.A., and, yes, incredible that this pathetic fool . . . signed a release.

Many a focus group participant, duly forewarned he is being observed, still picks his nose in the two-way mirror, so it's no surprise that well-lubricated Heineken Night guests would behave with suitable authenticity. The amazing thing is they've permitted their words to go on TV.

Nearly as mind-boggling is the idea that Heineken would identify itself with these unhappy, inarticulate, semiliterate, underemployed, sexually frustrated and generally embarrassing characters.

In the "Moby Dick" spot, who, exactly, is the protagonist? Is it the arrogant jerk who bludgeons his date with her literary shortcomings, or the clueless bimbo who isn't even embarrassed that she can't answer a $100 "Jeopardy!" question? Answer: No.

These ads are often comical, always riveting. What they aren't, yet, is an endorsement for drinking Heineken. They make a better case for not drinking at all.

Copyright April 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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