My take on the new Int’l Heineken ad

I recently read a controversial opinion on the new Heineken “World’s Apart” advertisement published by Mark Ritson, a UK-based professor of marketing and host of Marketing Week, a marketing commentary blog site. His article Mark Ritson: Heineken should remember marketing is about profit, not purpose basically asserts that the Heineken ad won’t really affect sales or profit for the company, and is therefore a waste of time and money.  Watch the ad for yourself here: Heineken “World’s Apart” Advert

As an aside, I must confess that I agree with Ritson that marketing’s key role is to create and enable sales and profit for a business – both now and in the future. But there are (and should be) many ways to skin that cat.

Firstly, I would contend the ability of just any advertisement to directly ( I mean immediately) affect sales. People generally can’t buy off their TV’s ( though youtube video’s with online shopping links are changing this). Even adverts with distinct sales push elements and price specials (like most supermarket ads), don’t directly create sales.  They influence the consumer purchase decision. I would say perhaps only marketing materials at the point of purchase could possibly be measured to directly effect sales (and then sometimes not so effectively).  This is because we know that there are more complexities to a person’s decision making than just seeing a product they may need and buying it. So contending whether an advert will or won’t directly affect profits is already incorrectly interpreting the role of adverts in the consumer purchase decision.

Secondly, I gathered he was promoting a sell, sell, sell approach to all marketing, and eulogising purely functional marketing. This then purports that consumers all make decisions based on purely functional criteria. Whilst I agree that function (and features) do play an important role in consumer’s criteria, there is still the largely important (and largely misunderstood) area of emotional factors that also play an integral role. Sure, some product and service categories tend more to the functional (like bread and milk you might suggest), but there are many categories where an emotional link to the category or brand plays a huge role in the purchase decision.

Now to the Heineken ad itself. I certainly believe that beer choice is highly emotional. My experience in beer research has shown me that, though many consumers can’t actually tell their brand in a blind taste test, they will vehemently defend their choice of brand. This is emotional bonding. We don’t know what Heineken’s objective was with this ad, but without a “Buy a 12 pack now for R59.99” tagged on the end, I think we can safely say the aim was more emotional connection than a sales promotion, yes? And yes, it is using a generic aspect of beer (bringing people together) to do so, but as some other commentators have contributed -the first to say/do it is the one who owns it. So a reasonably long, but interesting and emotionally engaging ad it is, and the message comes clearly to me at the end, and I do believe that it is memorable as a Heineken branded ad (contrary to Ritson, I don’t believe that Heineken, a well established brand name, needs to flash its branding all through its ads).

Not only is the ad part of a larger campaign that Heineken have been running called “Open Your World”, which is about expanding horizons (and also has a functional beer “opening” angle), it is also consistent with Heineken’s long term “International Beer”  image which has been the centre of their marketing efforts for ages. So, as a concept it is both consistent with Heineken’s brand (and therefore reinforcing all the previous messaging) and showing that Heineken has a higher purpose than just beer sales. This is important because we have been told that in this generation of marketing, a brand that doesn’t have a higher purpose is not viewed as favourably, especially by our “Millenials”.

However, if we  can assume their aim was to create an emotional connection to 1) make users feel more loyal and connected to the brand (and thereby influence long term sales) and possibly, 2) get people who hadn’t considered using Heineken, to form an emotional reappraisal of Heineken and contemplate including it in their repertoire, they have failed. They might have got away a little with 1, but if they were aiming at Millennials for 2, they certainly failed. But Why?

I tend to agree with Ritson that it won’t help with sales, but for a very different reason. I believe they made a critical error with trying to make an emotional bond with Millenials.  They tried to get emotional attachment through uniquely showing how people who are different can have more in common through beer. But, they weren’t the first with that ad concept -they copied an idea and so the whole emotional bond they are trying to make feels faked and forced. Fail!

If you don’t what I’m talking about take this Danish TV 2 ad: Danish TV 2 Ad, which has 4 million views, and I bet most are in their Millenial Target Market. It seems to be a Danish Phenomenon that has grown, as Danish travel site Momondo also did a “more that unites than divides us” campaign, which I am sure many of you have seen,  and suspiciously (for Heineken) titled: “Lets Open Our World” See it here: Momondo campaign. All of these play on the whole “we’re more unexpectedly alike than our differences” theme, and more authentically than Heineken does.

Heineken has tried to make a conceptual move from “quirky, funny beer ads” to “thoughtful world connector ads” in one big jump, and then by copying someone else’s work. Eish! Heineken actually comes across as a feeble follower of another idea, losing innovativeness, authenticity,  and ultimately, respect. Emotional connection? Perhaps amongst the social media unconnected, but why at the cost of your opinion leaders?

So do we need to make brands profitable? Yes! Do we need to market functional attributes of our brands to make sales? Yes! Do we need to market to the emotional sides of our target market to make sales? Yes! Can we do this by rehashing someone else’s cool idea…I don’t believe so….. and hence Heineken’s error.

What do YOU think -was Heineken’s ad a like or a fail?


(Image is screengrab taken from Heineken’s “World’s Apart”  video published on Youtube -I claim no rights or property to this and all remains Heineken’s)