I don’t sell beer, I sell warmth

Alfred ‘Freddy’ Heineken knew that the success of selling his beer rested on seeing it as more than just a product. As Heineken celebrates its 140th birthday, the brand has taken the opportunity to highlight its remarkable archive of advertising and design, and use it in a new campaign

Dutch beer behemoth Heineken is marking its grand old age of 140 this year not with a fanfare of events and big-budget commercials, but with a thorough rummage through its substantial archive.

And what an archive it is. It has more than 50,000 assets, was first brought together in the 1970s by Alfred Heineken, is officially part of the Amsterdam City Archives, and since 2008 is run by the Heineken Collection foundation. It has been substantially digitised over a period of ten years, and goes back to images from the 19th century.

Its snapshot of history ranges from the first green Heineken bottle (the colour becoming one of the key Heineken brand markers), via photographs of the first Heineken crates delivered in post-prohibition America, to material from the Mad Men era and the cheeky celebrity TV ads of the late nineties – Jennifer Aniston being dumped for a bottle of Heineken, for example.

This year’s Remix Our Future competition makes much of that visual treasure trove available via a Facebook apps, inviting global creatives to design a commemorative, limited edition bottle – the winner to be released by December.

Digging into the archive

“We take it very seriously,” says Heineken head of global design Mark van Iterson of the archive. Van Iterson himself spent a whole week in the archive when he first started at design consultancy Du Bois Ording Design which serviced the Heineken account at the time. Today, he underlines the importance of the archive beyond providing a rich seam for anniversary campaigns.

“From a design and innovation point of view it’s crucial to understand where the brand has come from – how it has become successful and what its milestones are – in order to create the future,” says van Iterson. “We regularly dig into into the archive.”

For example, a series of print ads from the 1990s that used extreme close-ups of details of the Heineken logo and a later set of imagery that showed the logo projected onto global landmarks inspired a recent set of print visuals, says van Iterson. There is a lot to inform today’s advertising creative, as many of the posters and clips exemplify the development of the beer’s key messages.

Advertising has always been integral to Heineken, and when Alfred ‘Freddy’ Heineken took the reigns of marketing and advertising in the business, in the 1950s it stepped up another gear, garnering numerous accolades over the years. Freddy eventually won the Advertising Man of the Year award at the Cannes advertising festival in 1995, and was crowned adman of the century by his Dutch compatriots in 1999. “He was the first to understand about making Heineken more about the emotional experience than a beer,” says Sandrine Huijgen, global communications manager at Heineken. “There was this very strong idea in using advertising to show internationality, and we were selling a dream and an experience and an emotion, not just a product.”

Freddy’s motto was “I don’t sell beer, I sell warmth”. Despite the strapline “it’s all about the beer” accompanying some memorable campaigns, the notion of selling ‘warmth’ – or the experience – prevailed, especially in today’s Open Your World tagline.

Much of the advertising also highlights the brand’s inventiveness and humour, Huijgen points out, citing the Aniston ad as a good example of pushing conventions at the time (maybe too much, as it was banned in some regions for being somewhat un-pc).

In the UK, meanwhile, innovation was embodied in the slogan “Heineken refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach” by copywriter Terry Lovelock for advertising agency Lowe, which introduced the lager beer to a country of ale and bitter drinkers in the 1970s. It famously went against the prevailing marketing tenets with its surreal claim accompanied by equally quirky imagery, but endured for more than three decades.

Enjoyment and wit

“Never taking yourself too seriously has been a trademark of Heineken for a long time, and we’re still reigniting that humour in a more contemporary way,” says Huijgen. “The humour is less about that one big joke, but about more subtle moments of not taking yourself too seriously.”

Perhaps that humour stems from Dutch Calvinism, a modest way of approaching things, ventures van Iterson. “It’s about the old Heineken family way of stating things – it’s about enjoyment and wit.” Even Freddy Heineken’s evolution of the Heineken logo reflects this, with its three ‘e’s now slightly tilted backward to create the effect of a smile.

These days, Wieden + Kennedy is the company’s lead global advertising agency, and Mark Bernath, co-executive creative director at W+K Amsterdam, concurs that the advertising back catalogue shows “a sense of humour that has a little bit of a surprise, on the side of witty versus slapstick”. “The humour needs to adhere to the idea of ‘premium’ – so be slightly more intelligent than for budget beer,” he adds, underscoring another key element of the brand’s advertising over the years – quality.

Early posters were often designed by famous illustrators of the time, such as Eppo Doeve and Frans Mettes, and the photography commissioned from high quality photographers – Dutch photographer Paul Huf, for example, got his first big Heineken assignment in the 1950s to capture ‘life in the Heineken brewery’ . “There are some really old, beautiful examples in those fantastic styles – from art to the modernistic styles of the times. Of course it is difficult to make a direct link to today, but it shows the passion to always do something outstanding and beautiful,” says van Iterson.

This approach again is picked up today. One of the recent print and outdoor ad campaigns by Wieden + Kennedy, for example, was shot by Andrew Zuckerman, who is best known for his hyperreal images of animals, and still life photographer Marcel Christ has also created some imagery.

The recent TV ad campaigns The Date and The Entrance, meanwhile, were directed by Fredrik Bond with high production values. “The word premium comes to mind in the sense of the craft of the product reflected in the craft of how the communications come across,” says Bernath. “There is now a consistency in terms of the look, it’s slightly more cinematic and filmic than your average ad.”

These overarching themes belie, however, the sheer breadth and variety of the Heineken archive. For example, while much of Heineken’s message is linked to its internationality (and its campaigns today are purposefully aimed at a global audience), many of the ads of the past were tailored to the locality of a staggering number of countries – now approximately 180 – it exports to.
And the innovative, bold and award-winning invariably sits alongside the underwhelming or uninspired. But it’s that overall picture painted by such a rich archive which is always worth a regular rummage.

For a history of Heineken, see heinekeninternational.com

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