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Heineken Chases Light Sales. To Thine Own Self Be True?

Posted by: David Kiley on March 1, 2006


“To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man:” William Shakespeare—Hamlet.

I thought of this quote today as Heineken USA CEO Andy Thomas was in my office today drinking Heineken Premium Light with me, and chatting over the reasons why.

I like Heineken. I don’t love it. But I like it, and when it’s offered to me at a bar or restaurant against domestic swill like Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Lite, Coors, Coors Lite, I often opt for it. As anyone who has gulped it, Heineken has the tell-tale European-style bitter, full-bodied taste.

So, here comes Premium Light. The finish of this beer left a dull taste on the back of my tongue. It was better than Coors Light and Bud Light (anything would be), as it wasn’t as sweet (uh oh…the ladies might not go for this). But I was looking for something branded Heineken to have a sharper more distinct taste and finish, even in a Light beer. “Then, I’m glad we can give you a regular Heineken,” says Thomas, “because that’s where that taste and finish is.”

Thomas, an Amstel Light drinker (Heineken owns that brand too), says he’s going after the guy who drives a nice car, a Bimmer maybe, stops at Starbucks, works as a writer at a prestigious business weekly or maybe runs a hedge fund, wears an Armani (or Rochester) suit, and orders a Bud Light or Coors light because he wants a light beer and has few choices. That guy, says Thomas, wants his light beer inside a brand like Heineken.

The beer is made for the U.S., with no plans afoot to take it outside U.S. borders. It seems the light beer is a peculiarly American fashion—like decaf tea, tasteless hot-house tomatoes and SUVs that get 9 miles to the gallon and never haul anything rougher than a couple of pee-wee soccer players.

So, Thomas says Heineken drinkers won’t be upset at the weaker taste because they don’t drink light beer. The audiuence he’s going after are the people who drink light beer and will appreciate the cachet of the Heineken brand. Who can blame him for hatching the strategy? After all, with half the beer market going to light sales, Heineken has been kissing off half the market, and who can afford to do that?

I don’t think Premium Light quite lives up to the expectations I have for the brand, but then again, I’m not the target. Light beer, to me, is for the guys who got together and passed the law that says I can’t smoke a cigar at an outdoor ballgame. Let em drink light. I’ll take the real stuff.



News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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