Andy Glaser, Heineken USA

A hangar inside Zephyrhills Municipal Airport is pitch blackbut for a small section of the vast concrete floor. Accent lights trained on the spot create a bottle-green glow, flanked by huge digital screens displaying the Heineken logo. Gathered around are two dozen wholesalers that a chartered bus has just fetched from a nearby Tampa, Fla., hotel. They wait quietly.

Suddenly the hangar door opens wide enough to admit a prop plane, which whirrs its way inside. The cockpit door swings open, and out onto the rung steps Jim Lovell. Yes, that Jim Lovell, the commander of the heroic Apollo 13 mission. Lovell greets his audience of wholesalers, launching into an inspirational talk about making history by doing something that had never been done before.

Perhaps that theme is a stretch when applied to introducing a new brew, but the connection is clear to this crowd. And it’s particularly clear to Heineken brand director Andy Glaser, who steps forward on cue to announce that a new product-one that had been discussed and debated for decades-was finally coming to four test markets. The product is Heineken Premium Light, and its development was so meticulously planned that going to the moon might have been simpler. HPL’s selection process burned through 199 alternate names, 39 design schemes, 24 different brew formulas and nine packaging proposals.

Through it all, Glaser was the man at Mission Control.

That evening in the hangar in March 2005 was, in fact, only one of a series of awareness builders that Glaser orchestrated prior to HPL’s national launch in April of last year. “I believe in building momentum,” Glaser explained. “Momentum is everything in marketing. It’s not the one big idea that drives success. It’s about all the good ideas, big and small, that build momentum together.”

For the task at hand, Glaser would need all the good ideas he could muster, because HPL was attempting to do what competitors had only half succeeded in doing many times before. Beck’s Premier Light, Grolsch Light, Corona Light, Sam Adams Light-all proved too close to the mother brands and, after the post-launch fanfare faded, ended at the bottom of the cooler. In the end, these light extensions merely offered a less-filling switch from the full calorie sister brand. For drinkers, these lights were a lateral trade, if not a trade down.

Glaser was determined to avoid that fate, working to position HPL as a trade-up by stamping the brew as a “luxury light.” Yet HPL didn’t just have to be an attractive choice for drinkers, it had to be distinct enough to attract new customers while not siphoning off devotees of the 133-year-old traditional Heineken brew.

ALL FOR ONE

The idea of launching a lighter version of Heineken was already shopworn by the time Glaser was hired in 2003. Many senior execs such as Heineken USA president Frans van der Minne had long been in favor, but Heineken N.V. president Alfred (Freddy) Heineken unfailingly insisted there could be only one Heineken. (It was his recalcitrance that fueled the company to enter the North American low-calorie beer sector in 1980 with a totally different brand name, Amstel Light.) In the wake of Freddy’s death in January 2002, management had accepted the financial rationale for launching a low-cal Heineken. The question was how to do so without diluting Heineken’s equity.

Facing the work ahead of him, Glaser leaned on his years of military experience (he served as a lieutenant in the British Royal Marines). “I learned at an early age to appreciate the power of experience in others.” Said Glaser. “When you’re a 22-year-old officer just out of training, you appreciate the skill and experience in others and how you can achieve your aims by building trust and confidence in others around you. That helped me throughout my career and particularly with HPL.”