Heineken to Pour $70 Million Into Premium Light Marketing

Spending Likely Highest Ever for an Import, Ups Ante in Creative Review

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- In what looks to be an unprecedented marketing investment for an import brew, Heineken will spend $70 million on its fast-growing
Heineken Premium Light will get a $70 million push.
Heineken Premium Light will get a $70 million push.
Heineken Premium Light this year -- almost three times Corona's outlay in the first nine months of last year. But which agency will benefit from the largess remains an open question.

Consolidating accounts
The brewer has been attempting to consolidate its U.S. creative accounts for flagship Heineken lager and Heineken Premium Light since last summer. A decision was expected in January, but the brewer has since asked the two finalists, independent Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and Premium Light incumbent WPP Group's Berlin Cameron United, New York, for more information. Heineken's plan to increase spending for Premium Light raises the stakes considerably in that contest.

The so-called luxury light brand spent $55 million as it launched last year, and it quickly climbed to the No. 9 import brand in the U.S. Heineken lager, which was supported with $28 million through the first nine months of 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence, is the No. 2 import; it trails Corona Extra, which spent about $25 million during the same period.

Record spending budget
The projected outlay for Premium Light could set a new high-water mark for ad spending by an import. "I don't think any import has ever spent that much," said Beer Marketer's Insights Publisher Benj Steinman. "That's megabrands territory-it's an amazingly big bet."

In its earnings announcement last week, Heineken said it's aiming to double the brand's sales during 2007. Since its introduction, the brewer has cultivated a diva-in-a-bottle image created by Berlin for Premium Light. The brand's debut campaign, backed by the Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha," highlighted its sleek package. The follow-up effort continued the bottle-in-lights theme, backed this time by Snoop Dogg's "Irresistible."

Amstel Light decline
The increased focus on Premium Light doesn't seem to have hurt the base brand, Heineken lager, which grew 7.3% last year. The same cannot be said for the brewer's other light beer, Amstel Light, which saw an 8.6% decline. Concerns about cannibalization of Amstel Light were raised even before Premium Light launched last spring, and it likely will soon surpass Amstel in volume.

Heineken has said Amstel has an older-skewing target than Heineken Premium Light and, in its most recent earnings release, blamed "the switch of part of its consumer to wine and premium spirits." But the same trading-up trend has also fueled the growth of import brands, which grew 9% last year compared with 1.9% growth for beer overall.
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