High-Stakes Moment: Can New Campaign Lift Heineken Light From Slump?

'Occasionally Perfect' Push Is First From New CMO, Wieden

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After a pricey and successful national launch in 2006, Heineken Light has since sagged and tried a variety of campaigns and agencies that have failed to lift the import from a sales slump. Given that , a lot's riding on the beer's newest effort breaking this weekend, the first big campaign launched by new Heineken USA Chief Marketing Officer Lesya Lysyj and the first work by the brand's latest agency, Wieden & Kennedy, New York, which won the account in May.

The TV spots borrow elements from Wieden, Amsterdam's ongoing global campaign for Heineken Light's big brother, Heineken lager, called "Open Your World," which portrays the Heineken drinker as a worldly, confident and open-minded consumer. But the campaign for Light -- which is only sold in the U.S. -- adds a new tagline, "Occasionally Perfect." The goal? To position the brand, which has lower alcohol content than Heineken lager, as the right choice for a "higher-stakes moment," the importer said.

Heineken Light
Heineken Light

"It might be in a work occasion, or on a date, or somewhere where you want to have premium beer in your hand but maintain some kind of control," said Ms. Lysyj, who previewed the campaign for Ad Age .

In the first spot, a man wearing an obscure snakeskin jacket seems out of place at a business meeting and on the golf course, but then strolls into a "secret, offshore, charity snake-fighting event," while the narrator intones: "There are some things best saved for the right occasion."

A second spot will begin airing later in July. In total, the commercials will run on 18 cable networks through September, including ESPN and Comedy Central. The importer said Light will be the "focus" of its TV buying this summer, although it did not reveal exact spending figures. Light also plans the most ambitious sampling program since its launch, aiming to reach 1 million drinkers aged 25-to-34 at events in 17 markets, including at the U.S. Open tennis tournament.

Heineken USA spent $12.7 million in measured media on Light last year, compared with more than $42 million on Heineken lager, according to Kantar Media.

Quirky and rather abstract, the new spots are a big departure from Light's previous campaign by Euro RSCG called "See the Light," which took a more slapstick approach, depicting two guys mentored on trading up in various aspects of their life by older men. The campaign, which followed other short-lived efforts, was already off the air by the time Ms. Lysyj joined the importer in February.

She called the old campaign a "tactical" and "product-oriented" one that sought to get consumers to trade up but did not tell them why. "Beyond actually just telling consumers that we're here and we're from Heineken [and] we're a premium product, we weren't necessarily giving people a reason to actually come in the category, or a reason to consume the product."

The premium light category is a small one -- about 1% of the total beer market, according to Heineken USA -- and is dwarfed by the mainstream light segment dominated by brands such as Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light.

"What we're tying to do is give people a reason to come into the category," Ms. Lysyj said. "Heineken Light is for occasions that call for something a little bit more unique, special and upscale." Such detailed positioning is increasingly important in the beer industry, especially for upscale brands such as Heineken Light, which face spirited competition from growing regional craft beers. Consumers "have more and more beers in their repertoire, and so helping them find the right occasion for different kinds of beers is helpful," Ms. Lysyj said.

Lately, Heineken Light has been on the losing end. The brand finished 2010 in 10th place among all imports, with shipments down 8.1%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. Its chief import competitor, Corona Light, was in seventh place, dropping 1.3%. Heineken Light's slump has continued this year, with sales down 15.8% in the 52 weeks ending May 15, according to SymphonyIRI, which does not include bar and restaurant sales and excludes Walmart and liquor stores.

The brand rocketed out of the gate, fueled by some $50 million in marketing spending in 2006, which quickly propelled Light to the ninth spot among all imports. But it soon lost its way, as Heineken USA churned through management changes and agencies, with W&K New York the fifth shop to work on the brand since 2006. (W&K, Portland, Ore., was one of the five agencies, working on the brand for a spell before Euro took both Heineken brands in mid 2009.)

Ms. Lysyj, a former Kraft Foods marketer, has promised more stability, telling Ad Age in an interview earlier this year that she views agency relationships like a marriage, "and marriages go through peaks and valleys."

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