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.