Heineken changes U.K. brew, image

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[London] In an unusual test of the power of witty advertising to transform a brand's image, Heineken will relaunch in the U.K. the standard version sold around the world, replacing the watery low-alcohol brew that Brits have enjoyed for decades.

Following the death of Dutch brewery king Freddie Heineken, the Heineken family reclaimed the U.K. brewing license from Interbrew. Under the leadership of Mr. Heineken's daughter, Charlene de Caralhou, Heineken has been revamped as a 5%-alcohol premium lager, bringing the product in line with the rest of the world. A $10 million campaign that pokes fun at stereotypes of Americans, the Dutch and the Swiss broke this month.

"We decided to change the brand's fortune and rescue family pride," said Leslie Kendrigan Meredith, marketing director of Heineken U.K. "Although there was a reserve of affection for the brand, the product sucked."

world testing

The core idea of ads by London's Clemmow Hornby Inge is that full-strength Heineken has been tested around the world to make sure it is good enough for the superior tastes of the British consumer. The tagline: "Heineken. The world approves."

In one spot set in a U.S. bar, an American threatens to sue a fellow drinker for spilling his Heineken. The bartender then threatens to sue the men for fighting. Another man announces that he is going to sue the Heineken poster girl for suggesting that customers "Enjoy Heineken" amid the acrimony. She threatens to sue the government, and a White House representative is seen on a TV screen confirming that the president is facing legal action. The tagline: "American lawsuit-test-approved."

other executions

In another execution, Swiss neutrality is tested when a fight breaks out over a keg of Heineken. Dutch tolerance is pushed to the limit in the third spot when a shopper asks for a brand other than Heineken and is ejected from the supermarket.

Heineken was first introduced to the U.K. in 1969 as a refreshing, low-alcohol (3.4%) alternative to traditional bitter or stout. For 20 years it was the country's No. 1, but over the last decade Heineken plummeted to seventh place as British tastes changed in favor of stronger brews.

British affection for Heineken is the result of decades of famous advertising, most notably a campaign by Lowe & Partners Worldwide, London, with the tagline "Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach."

After just a few weeks, evidence of the campaign's results is still anecdotal, but Ms. Meredith is confident. "We are selling two to three times what we predicted and product performance is outstanding. People like it and are open to it," she said.

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