Most ad agencies that work with alcohol brands have a general loathing for the myriad guidelines that shackle them from showing much of anything, including someone drinking a beer.
But in its new work for Heineken Light, Wieden + Kennedy New York decided to just make that the whole point of the ads, an approach that would probably come off entirely flat if the agency hadn't also tapped a spokesman as charismatic as Neil Patrick Harris.
In the brand's new :60, the Emmy- and Tony-winning actor spends most of the spot debating with the director about why he can't drink a beer in a beer commercial. The repartee builds from there, with Harris floating increasingly implausible solutions such as pouring a Heineken into an empty Heineken Light bottle and then drinking it. (I'm not sure I follow his logic, but I admire it.)
While it's not really explained in the ad, there's no law keeping Harris—or anyone else—from drinking a beer on camera.
The United States government doesn't actually limit alcohol marketing at all, or as the FCC notes, "Congress has not enacted any law prohibiting broadcast advertising of any kind of alcoholic beverage, and the FCC does not have a rule or policy regulating such advertisements."
The brewing industry's Beer Institute has its own voluntary guidelines, and they're generally OK with showing beer drinking, too: "Although beer advertising and marketing materials may show beer being consumed (where permitted by media standards), advertising and marketing materials should not depict situations where beer is being consumed rapidly, excessively, involuntarily, as part of a drinking game, or as a result of a dare."
However, several broadcast networks continue to stick to a long-expired portion of the Television Code that prohibited showing alcohol being consumed. (Thus the ad's reference to "network execs in a room somewhere.")
Also, Canada has a bevy of beverage restrictions, including a rule against showing "scenes in which any such product is consumed, or that give the impression, visually or in sound, that it is being or has been consumed." As you can imagine, other countries have their own rules, too, making a beer ad with global reach a truly hamstrung affair.
So in short, yeah, it's complicated. And it's not too likely to change anytime soon.
In fact, we can probably expect a similar gag to come around every few decades. Check out this '80s classic from Paul Hogan and Foster's:
Client: Heineken U.S.
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy New York
Executive Creative Directors: Susan Hoffman, David Kolbusz
Creative Directors: Eric Steele, Erik Norin
Copywriters: Nathaniel Lawlor, Maddison Bradley, Danny Gonzalez, Mike Vitiello
Art Directors: Croix Gagnon, Jon Robbins, Zack Menna, David Suarez, Cory Everett
Head of Integrated Production: Nick Setounski
Producer: Orlee Tatarka, Jen Vladimirsky
Assistant Producer: Kristen Johnson
Strategist: Kelly Lynn Wright
Account Team: Patrick Cahill, Jacqueline Ventura, Syndey Lopes
Business Affairs: Amber Lavender
Project Manager: Sunjoo Ryou
Production Company: Arts & Sciences
Director: Tom Scharpling
Executive Producers: Mal Ward, Marc Marrie, Matt Aselton
Line Producer: Alex Waite
Director of Photography: Peter Donahue
Editorial Company: Arcade Edit
Editors: Geoff Hounsell (Out of Frame :15, Party :48), Will Hasell (Director :60)
Assistant Editor: James Bird
Post Executive Producer: Sila Soyer
Producer: Fanny Cruz
Visual Effects Company: Arcade Edit
Visual Effects Lead Flame: John Starace
Producer: Fanny Cruz
Telecine Company: Company 3
Colorist: Tim Masick
Mix Company: Heard City
Mixer: Evan Mangiamele
Music Company: Beyond Music