NOSTALGIA: LIFE BEFORE THE HEINEKEN CAMPAIGN

Next Thursday (15th April 2010) a famous but now defunct UK agency Collett Dickenson Pearce(CDP) will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its foundation. Over the coming week, The Slog will be writing various brief tributes.

There will be many Heineken campaigns for as long as the brand abides, but there will only ever be one great Heineken campaign. It refreshed the parts other beer campaigns never got anywhere near reaching: and for well over a decade, it not only made the nation laugh – it single-handedly relaunched the career of Danish piano-comic Victor Borge.

Success has many fathers and failure is a bastard – but the real credits for the Heineken campaign are undisputed by the cognoscenti. Anthony Simmonds-Gooding was the client. David Clifford pitched the strategy that won the business, but Planner Tony Mortemore first identified ‘refreshment’ as the generic advantage lager had over bitter. Terry ‘Lovelunch’ Lovelock wrote the strapline and came up with the campaign format. Frank Lowe sold it to the client. Tony Simmonds-Gooding ignored the crass research results. The first commercial involved a row of policeman’s feet being refreshed. And within months, every lager brewer in the UK wished they had the campaign.

But very few people can recall what lager advertising was like before the Heineken campaign, so I’ll tell you: it was shit-awful. In 1973, lager was still a bit girlie: “I’ll have a lager and lime” was the request we young blades wanted, rather than “I’ll have a double Bacardi and coke”, when asking girls what they fancied to drink. Homophobic fear stalked the corridors of the Beerage when advertising lager, because north of Watford and East of the Pennines, the prevailing view was that only puffs and cheap dates drank the stuff.

The industry’s reaction was to make commercials in which mega-biceped hairy-arsed blokes thundered into pubs demanding where the wenches were at, and then crashed gigantic German bier-glasses together in session after session of heterosexual male bonding. Cut into this classic scenario was a barman (suitably cast as an oracular source of what made for Good Beer).

In the case of Heineken, the barman had been played by ancient jobbing actor James Hayter, whose role in the commercials was to say ‘There’s a terrific draught in here’ every time the pub door burst open to allow entry to the hairy arsed (see last paragraph).

What CDP’s refreshment campaign did was to make a ‘foreign’ beer British – in a way that allowed laddish lager drinkers to swap pub observations about events in the commercials. As such, it overwhelmed the acres of pedantic research drivel about ‘how to make a lager commercial’. Colletts ads never ever fitted a template, because the whole idea was to smash (and if possible, take the piss out of) every template. In doing this, CDP blazed the trail that led to a sort of ‘we know that you know that we know’ agreement between UK consumers and advertisers. It broke the P&G model of ‘me producer, you consumer’, and stopped British advertising from turning into the ridiculous focus-group driven politics we see today. Agencies in 2010 have little idea how much they owe to Colletts for doing this.

I remember my first day at CDP, and David Clifford showing me the soon-to-be-aired policemen’s feet execution. I also remember thinking ‘these people are fucking mad’. I had a lot to learn.

4 thoughts on “NOSTALGIA: LIFE BEFORE THE HEINEKEN CAMPAIGN

  1. An interesting post which includes a coincidence that is worth a mention.The first lager brewed in the UK was WREXHAM LAGER, brewed from the early 1800's. It was a firm favourite in many Wrexham pubs especially on Thursdays the traditional market day. Sadly Wrexham Lager together with its brewery are no more. A great opportunity was missed here to market this lager with its historic UK connections,it was a very sad day when it disappeared [only relatively recently]- the first Lager brewed in the UK could have been a big winner. Where were the Richard Bransons of Wrexham?James Hayter was a great friend of Philip Yorke,the last Squire of Erddig [a Wrexham Estate], and was often a guest at Erddig Hall whilst Philip Yorke was alive, now a National Trust Property it was given to the trust by Philip Yorke, together with its lands which ensured its viability and is today very popular with visitors as 'The Servants Hall'.

  2. Persuading young Working Class Males,from Up North, to sup lager,is not QUITE in the same league,as persuading 1920s U.S. womento smoke.In public.It was not only something of a taboo.But actually illegal in some States!There was one PR pioneer, who would change all that.Edward Bernays.With his campaign,¨Torches of Freedom¨.

  3. Wpnderful memories, yet contemporary insights!Glorious times indeed.Tell me,who nowadays is doing the equivalent?GerardDublinPS: Keep up the great work, the 'free speech' world need more folk like you.

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