Does Heineken hate beer babes?

Advertising deconstructed.
Aug. 18 2003 10:47 AM

Does Heineken Hate Beer Babes?

Perhaps you're sick of advertising and all its predictable gimmicks. You know who else is? Advertisers. Two recent spots, one from Heineken, the other from Champion Sportswear, go after some of the most conspicuous commercial targets.

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Which party is more staged? First up: beer babes. Two of the noisiest campaigns of the last 12 months have been the Coors Light "twins" ads and the Miller Lite "catfight" ads, both of which relied on the familiar theory that sexy women make great sales props. And it looks as though we're seeing more of the same in a spot that seems to be set at a rooftop party. There's a tattooed dude, dancing with beer in hand, and lots of energetic young men and women, expressing a suspicious amount of joie de vivre while a ludicrous fast-rock song plays. (The lyrics: "Raise the roof! The beer is here! Come on everybody and grab a beer!") A trio of identical blondes in revealing shorts prance vacantly into the milieu, knocking over a cardboard version of themselves. Then a voice speaking through a bullhorn shouts, "Come on give me some skin." Ah, it's the director of the "commercial." "Cut!" he yells.

Viewing all this from across the way are attendees at another rooftop party—a real one. It's mellow, with laid-back R & B playing, a little barbecue, a big old dog, and a (suspiciously) multi-culti crew all having the time of their enlightened lives together. Basquiat-like graffiti lends the perfect urban-hipster-sophisticate touch. I mean, there's still a hot girl in a bikini top in the crowd—but it's not like she's blond or anything.

Dissing champions to promote Champion The Champion ad makes a more emotional play. As an elegiac piano plunks, we see images from the basketball court and the boxing ring—but the ball, and the canvas, are emblazoned with outsized dollar bill images. "When did the logo on your shoe become more important than the heart on your sleeve?" a borderline-outraged announcer demands. "When did the word 'renegotiate' move from the business page to the sports page?

"Where have all the champions gone?"

In answer, we cut to shots of amateur athletes—football in the park, shooting hoops in a desolate lot, a woman running, etc. "We're still out there," the announcer reassures. "You'll find us in the places where the lights don't flash and where the only contract you sign is with yourself. We are the champions. And we aren't going anywhere."

It would of course be a mistake to read any of this as a sea change. Athlete endorsements will continue to outrage—and they will continue, at times, to work. And it almost goes without saying that scantily clad women will never go out of style.

Still, both of these ads use disenchantment to good effect. So what if that Heineken party looks—and of course is—every bit as concocted as the one it's looking down on? So what if the Champion ad sneers at logos by touting its own brand? Advertising isn't about a consistent worldview; in this case, it's about catching a mood. Right now the mood happens to be a little testy about certain commercial tactics and trends. So why should an advertiser fight that, when they can simply join in?

Rob Walker is a columnist for Yahoo Tech, a contributor to Design Observer and the New York Times, and the author of Buying In.

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