Heineken Opens Creative Review for Lager Brands

Wieden to Defend Beer Business Against Other Roster Shops

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Heineken USA has placed the creative advertising duties for its flagship lager brands Heineken and Heineken Premium Light into review, raising the possibility that the import-beer marketer could be working with its fourth agency since 2006.

According to executives familiar with the situation, Heineken's incumbent U.S. shop, Wieden & Kennedy, will defend the account in a pitch against other Heineken roster shops, including TBWA/Chiat/Day, Euro RSCG and StrawberryFrog. Measured media spending on Heineken and Heineken Premium Light was $110 million in 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence. That media-spending figure also includes spending on a Heineken-branded home appliance called BeerTender, which was produced by Krups; Wieden handled its advertising as well.

Rocky union
The agencies involved either referred calls to the marketer or didn't immediately respond for comment. A spokeswoman for Heineken couldn't immediately comment.

Wieden and Heineken have enjoyed a strange and rocky marriage. The agency originally pitched the business during a protracted 2006 review that was won by Berlin Cameron after Wieden dropped out during the final round. Berlin previously had handled the launch of Heineken Premium Light and also beat out Heineken Lager agency Publicis, New York, in the pitch for the consolidated business. Both Heineken and Heineken Light were growing at robust paces at that point.

But barely nine months later, Heineken fired Berlin Cameron and moved the business to Wieden without a review. That move marked the agency's return to the beer category, where it had done standout work for Miller Brewing Co.'s Miller High Life brand earlier in the decade, creating the gruff-sounding "High Life Man" character.

But Wieden's first effort for Heineken, a campaign called "Share the good" that tried to portray Heineken Light as a global movement was quickly killed, and it took the agency nearly a year to air work for Heineken Lager. The first round of that campaign, which tried to meld a drink-responsibly message with an attempt to restore the prestige factor Heineken once enjoyed, kicked off with a series of ads featuring actor John Turturro engaging in philosophical fortune-cookie speak that aired during a Super Bowl spot buy in major markets.

Executive turnover
Heineken also has seen significant executive turnover during that period. It got a new president, Don Blaustein, late in 2007 and a new chief marketing officer, Christian McMahan, in July.

The marketing turmoil has not been good for sales of Heineken and Heineken Light, which saw sales volume fall nearly 12% through April 19 in food, drug and convenience stores, according to Information Resources Inc. That result underperformed even the larger European import segment, which was down 9% during the same period as consumers traded down to cheaper brews.

Wieden previously had handled the account out of its Portland, Ore., headquarters, but is said to be repitching from its New York office, which has greater proximity to Heineken USA's White Plains, N.Y., headquarters. TBWA, StrawberryFrog and Euro were also pitching out of New York.

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