W+K NY, Neil Patrick Harris Offer ‘Money Back’ for Heineken Light

By Erik Oster 

Last summer, W+K New York debuted its first ads for Heineken Light starring Neil Patrick Harris after the brand signed the actor to an 18 month endorsement deal. Harris is back in the agency’s latest, introducing a money back guarantee in a 15-second broadcast ad and dealing with the aftermath in a longer online spot.

“Heineken Light, the best light beer you’ve ever tasted or I’ll give you your money back,” Harris says to open the ad. He then spends the rest of the spot clarifying that no, he personally will not be refunding any money but rather “Someone at Heineken, I’m guessing.” The tone is in line with the dry humor of previous spots starring Harris, and also a clear example of a trend Adweek dubs the “comically reluctant celebrity endorser.” Anna Kendrick really got the trend rolling in Droga5’s “If We Made It” campaign for Newcastle, and the brand followed up this year with a series of spots starring the sarcastic Aubrey Plaza, while Ricky Gervais nailed the approach in last week’s Optus ads.

The campaign gets self-referential in the longer online spot. A creepy fan confronts Harris, who he recognizes as “that guy from the Heineken Light ads,” while he’s in the grocery store and soon he has a crowd gathered around him asking questions about the promotion which Harris clearly doesn’t know the answers to. Both ads end by referencing Heineken Light’s two consecutive wins for best-tasting low-calorie lager at the 2013 and 2014 World Beer Championships, following a reformulation in 2013 that saw the addition of Cascade hops to the recipe (undoubtedly a nod to the popularity of hop-forward craft brews).

“According to the Consumer Edge Insights’ Beverage DemandTracker, we found that 40 percent of 21- to 27-years-olds desire light beer with a more full-flavored taste,” Ralph Rijks, vice president of Heineken USA, told Adweek. “To meet consumer demand for fuller flavored beers, Heineken reformulated the brew with Cascade hops in 2013, which are particularly beneficial in enhancing the taste and give it a fuller flavor, crisper aftertaste and a clean finish, yet we’ve preserved the easy-to-drink, effervescent, low-calorie beer that Heineken Light drinkers love.”

The new formula was meant to target a younger demographic that companies like Heineken have lost a lot of ground with, and the recent campaign starring Harris certainly seems to have the same audience in mind. Heineken deserves some kudos for making the effort to actually change their product, while its competitors sit on their laurels, and match it with a well-chosen celebrity endorser, but you have to wonder why none of its advertising thus far has mentioned the change in formula — which certainly help distinguish it from the competition.