Peter York on Ads: Drink up guys, we're going for a walk on the wild side

Heineken

Heineken used to win all the prizes. Not for the lager itself - that was thin stuff, weaker than the European original, brewed under licence in Blighty - but for the advertising. Heineken ads touched the parts other creatives couldn't. It was famous advertising and it helped us in the dark years when we were under the yoke of the IMF and people had to manage without en-suite bathrooms or BMWs. But we got through somehow because we had a sense of community and Jubilee street parties. Those glorious old commercials with their jolly catch-phrases like "it's frothy man" or "for mash get Smash" helped you pull yourself together and just get on with it.

Heineken used to win all the prizes. Not for the lager itself - that was thin stuff, weaker than the European original, brewed under licence in Blighty - but for the advertising. Heineken ads touched the parts other creatives couldn't. It was famous advertising and it helped us in the dark years when we were under the yoke of the IMF and people had to manage without en-suite bathrooms or BMWs. But we got through somehow because we had a sense of community and Jubilee street parties. Those glorious old commercials with their jolly catch-phrases like "it's frothy man" or "for mash get Smash" helped you pull yourself together and just get on with it.

Heineken went back to direct Dutch ownership and full 5 per cent Euro-strength a few years ago and relaunched with an unmemorable commercial into a crowded competitive market full of lagers from Thailand to Tonga. So how does Heineken re-establish itself?

Why not draft in a Hollywood star and make him a kind of celebrity enforcer? Ray Liotta is a scary looking Italian-American actor who's worn the blue suits and the white-on-white shirts in those Mafia films. He's big, sort-of handsome in the way that Gordon Ramsay is, and - like Ramsay - he's got funny skin and weird blue eyes. He does a line in charming psychopaths, the kind who put their arm around your shoulder before they shoot you in the head.

Ray turns up at Mr Little British Ordinary Berk's house with the quarter glass of Heineken he's left behind at a bar. In the middle of the night. Then he takes him away for re-education in his sports car (is this homosexy or what?). They're off to the Heineken factory where David, still holding his glass, has to learn the mantra. Heineken's brewed the Euro way, and it's up from 3.4 per cent to 5 per cent proof. All this involves a lot of bear-hugs, a lot of very menacing pronunciations and a lot of manly eye-to-eye contact. Liotta is memorably strange-looking, no question. And a walk on the wild side with a cuddly killer's tougher than clever topical Have I Got News For You fun. But is it really what the post Ant and Dec generation want?

Peter@sru.co.uk

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