In December 1933, Leo van Munching Sr. brought his family and 50 cases of Heineken beer to the U.S., having talked the Holland-based brewery of the same name into making him its sole distributor in the market. The Nazi invasion of Holland, however, curtailed exports of Heineken, and the Dutch government did not allow Heineken to restart its export business to the U.S. until 1946.
After the war, Mr. van Munching hired Hershon & Garfield, whose advertising focused on Heineken's "foreign" cachet. In the 1960s, MacManus, John & Adams purchased quarter- and half-page ads in The New Yorker for the brew.
In the 1970s, the company's advertising changed under the leadership of Leo van Munching Jr., who followed his father into the business and switched agencies, hiring Fuller & Smith & Ross. Color print ads were introduced to highlight the distinctive green bottle and, in the mid-1970s, the marketer aired its first TV spots.
Heineken's TV spots pictured only the bottle with the tagline "America's No. 1-selling imported beer." The simple campaign ran for 15 years with subtle variations in wording and background settings, and by 1979, Heineken accounted for 41% of all import beer sales. In 1972, Heineken became the No. 1 imported beer in the U.S.
Imported beers truly came into their own in the U.S. in the 1970s, when the legal drinking age was lowered to 18 in most states, and continued to grow in the '80s as imports were taken up by young urban professionals.
In the early 1980s, Heineken introduced Amstel Light, positioned as a premium imported light beer targeted to women, with the slogan, "95 calories never tasted so good." Amstel Light was a curious introduction for Heineken, as there was no call for light beer in the brewer's home market. The wisdom of the introduction soon became clear, however, as Amstel Light quickly rose to the No. 1 position among light beers in the U.S.
By 1986, Mexican Corona Extra, which appealed to a young audience seeking trendy new products, had surpassed Molson and Beck's to become the No. 2 imported beer, and Heineken realized it needed a fresh approach to capture the younger end of the market.
Warwick Advertising took over the account from Lintas in the late 1980s. In 1988, it introduced the tagline "When you're done kidding around, Heineken" to position the brew against a growing onslaught of faddish beer brands popular with younger drinkers.
In 1991, Mr. van Munching Jr. sold his company to Heineken, retaining operating control of the company until January 1994, when the Netherlands-based brewer took over marketing its brands in the U.S. Sales continued slow, however, in part due to federal taxes that were increased by 100% in 1991.
New marketing strategy
By the mid-1990s, Heineken changed its U.S. marketing strategy to focus on the red star emblem on its bottle. The first new ads to come out of Wells Rich Greene BDDP, which won the business from Warwick in 1995, were simply a red star on a green background. A second phase of the 1996 print campaign, which avoided mention of the brand name, added phrases such as, "How I wonder what you are?" A concurrent TV spot showed a red star being painted on a green wall, to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
All efforts to bolster the brand failed, however, and in 1997, Corona Extra dethroned Heineken as the top U.S. imported beer.
Wells Rich again altered its pitch, this time featuring "real-life" conversations among young adults but still no mention of the product. That tactic also failed, and a year later, Heineken sought to reposition its brew as more of a mainstream product.
Heineken's relationship with WRG ended in early 1998 after the agency's parent was sold to Omnicom Group, a subsidiary of which handled Anheuser-Busch Cos. Lowe & Partners/SMS won the estimated $40 million Heineken account and returned the ad focus to the product as a high-quality beverage suitable for everyday occasions.
In 2001, Heineken moved its account to D'Arcy from Lowe, but in 2002, Publicis Groupe, D'Arcy's corporate parent, closed the shop, merging many D'Arcy accounts into other Publicis agencies. In 2003, Ryan Partnership, Westport, Conn., had Heineken's Amstel Light account; Vidal Partnership, New York, handled the Heineken brand's Hispanic advertising; and Publicis Worldwide, New York, had its general market business.