OPINION: Mills on ... Heineken

Buried away in the dark corners of a rival magazine a few weeks ago

was an intriguing news story. According to research carried out by

Taylor Nelson Sofres, the use of celebrities in ads left most consumers

entirely unmoved - which is to say a celeb in an ad didn't increase

their propensity to buy the product.

On the face of it, this is pretty bad news for advertising. Think of all

those millions wasted. Think of all those clients and creative directors

who might be forced to come up with a real idea for once. Think of all

those ad-loving celebs - John Cleese, Griff, Paul Daniels, Dawn French -

whose incomes would be slashed overnight and who would have to go on

income support.

We wish. Yet as with all such research, it's worth taking the findings

with a pinch of salt. Sure, some celebs do put people off buying a


That may be because they're loathsome in their own right, or because

they're simply not right for the product anyway. But it seems odd to me

that a British public that gorges itself on the cult of celebrity should

seek to claim that it's not influenced by celebs in ads. I suspect we're

talking denial here, brought on by our collective sense of shame at the

fact that we are held in thrall by such nonentities.

Be that as it may, the thing that never ceases to amaze me about

celebrities is their willingness to humiliate themselves at the merest

whiff of TV airtime, as in the latest Heineken ads from Lowe Lintas. Of

course, the celebs themselves don't see it like that. They think: "Ho

ho, here's my chance to curry favour with the great British public by

showing them what a sport I am." The rest of us, meanwhile, despise


Still, that doesn't stop me from enjoying these Heineken ads. A series

of four spots, meant to be viewed sequentially, starts with Daniels and

the missus caterwauling their way through The Carpenters' Close to


"Buy Heineken or we'll keep running this commercial," a message


In the second ad, Paul and Debbie are joined by Peter Stringfellow and

Vanessa Feltz. "It seems some people didn't take the last commercial

seriously," the ad warns. "Perhaps this might persuade them."

The third ad opens with a new message. "Since our last commercial, sales

have risen dramatically ... but not dramatically enough." Jimmy Hill,

Jimmy Savile, Lisa Riley and Tamara Beckwith join the singalong. In the

fourth ad, lions appear and the sound of screaming is heard. The

blackmail has worked, we have bought more Heineken and Paul and the gang

are now superfluous to requirements. Hooray, and as the endline says:

"How refreshing, how Heineken."

If, however, you were to describe these ads to someone who was neither

familiar with Heineken nor the British cult of celebrity, they'd think

you were joking. Threaten the consumer? Use C-grade celebrities, take

the piss out of them and then have them eaten by lions? Cheap, blatant

and mad are some of the nicer things that might be said. Except, of

course, that in reality it isn't any of those. It's a tribute to

Heineken's brand proposition that it can get away with this stuff.

I was, I admit, one of the many doubters when Heineken dropped the

"refreshes the parts" theme. Like Kit Kat, I thought Heineken had used

the line to carve out a unique piece of territory. Messing with that, I

thought, was mad. But I was wrong, and the new approach seems, if you'll

forgive the choice of word, to have refreshed the brand and opened new

avenues for it to explore. In the competitive and constantly shifting

world of lager, that's no bad thing. One small caveat, however: the

campaign seems to be based on the premise that you see all the ads. In

this media climate, that's a big assumption to make.