Rewind: Watch Heineken's First TV Ad

As Brand Prepares to Celebrate 140 Years, We Take a Look Back at Its Inaugural Ad From the Netherlands

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On New Year's Day in 1968, TV viewers in the Netherlands saw something they had never seen before: a beer commercial.

TV ads of any kind had only debuted in the country a year earlier (much later than the U.S., which has had them since the early 1940s). But in that first year in the Netherlands, alcohol ads were prohibited. However, the ban did not last long, and when it was lifted on the first day of 1968, Amsterdam-based Heineken was ready. The brewer unleashed this ad below, which we are featuring as the Heineken brand prepares to celebrate its 140th anniversary next year.

The Dutch-language spot was meant to convince consumers of something that is pretty widely accepted today -- that bottled beer could be enjoyed at home and tastes just as good as brews from a keg. "The slogan and TV spot itself are from the era when bottled beer was very new. Until those days, beer was always on kegs and on draft," said Mark van Iterson, Heineken's global head of design, who has studied the company's archives. So the ad was "in essence, a quality reassurance."

In commemoration of its 140th anniversary, Heineken will debut a video wall made from 5,000 beer bottles this Friday at its original brewery in Amsterdam.
In commemoration of its 140th anniversary, Heineken will debut a video wall made from 5,000 beer bottles this Friday at its original brewery in Amsterdam.

The tagline "Heerlijk Helder Heineken," roughly translates to "delicious, clear Heineken" or "wonderful, bright Heineken." The line was invented several years earlier by Alfred "Freddy" Heineken. The grandson of brewery founder Gerad Heineken, Freddy Heineken was the godfather of modern-day Heineken advertising and the one who built the beer into a truly global brand.

"Had I not been a brewer, I would have become an advertising man," he once said, according to his 2002 obituary in the New York Times. He learned the tools of the trade during a two-year stint in the U.S. after World War II. When he returned to Amsterdam, he "brought with him ideas which led to a small revolution within the company," according to Heineken's official corporate timeline. "The Heineken management at the time believed advertising to be an unnecessary luxury because a good product sells itself. But Alfred got his way."

Among the first print ads under his leadership was a 1948 image featuring a woman, since "shopping in that period was mainly a woman's responsibility," according to the company's timeline. The brand also revamped its logo, removing the apostrophe 's' at the end of the Heineken name, while creating the now familiar "smiling e" in the name that tilts slightly backwards. According to Mr. van Iterson, Alfred Heineken said, "what we sell is enjoyment. If we make [the Es] smile, we look so much friendlier."

That first TV ad in 1968 was created by Dutch puppet animation studio "Joop Geesink's Dollywood", which also produced these ads from the era.

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Heineken followed up its first TV spot with the ad seen below, featuring a man who makes room for a female passing on a boat and ends up sharing a beer with her. "Holland is a very wet country. We have lots of lakes and rivers and sea," Mr. van Iterson said. "So being on a boat is a very common weekend practice for leisure time."

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In the U.S., the Heineken brand did not make it to TV until the mid 1970s, when imported beers began making headway. The campaign, overseen by then-importer Van Munching & Co., consisted of a fairly straightforward product shot and the tagline "America's No. 1-selling imported beer." The spots had none of the jocks, beaches or animals that were so typical of domestic beer ads at the time, notes former Van Munching marketer Philip Van Munching in his 1997 book "Beer Blast." "Dull, dull, dull," is how he describes the ads in his book. "And effective, as sales growth showed," he added.

Heineken was later passed by Corona Extra as the top U.S. import.

In the Netherlands, the "Heerlijk Helder Heineken" tagline endured into the 1990s. These days, the brewer is pushing a more global message with its "Open Your World" campaign, led by Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam.

As it prepares to celebrate its 140th anniversary, Heineken is asking its global fans to "remix a bottle of the future" by using an app that is hosted on Facebook in the U.S. The app features hundreds of historic advertising visuals. The winning bottle design will be incorporated into a limited edition bottle next year.

Also, on Friday in Amsterdam the brewer will debut a video wall (pictured left) made from 5,000 Heineken bottles stacked high at its original brewery, which today is a museum and tourist attraction. Fans are encouraged to send portraits to Facebook, which Heineken will potentially upload to the wall, giving them a few seconds of fame.

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