Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Given all the turmoil at the top in this relationships-based business, it’s kind of poignant, but not at all unusual, that while this work for Heineken runs through the summer, the account has already moved on to D’Arcy Mas ius Benton & Bowles.

After four years, Lowe’s last creative stand for Hein e ken is as smart and lighthearted as ever. It makes great use of unexpected music, non-bar-or-party-or-apartment settings and comic kernels of human truth. And it contains a few firsts.

Like the subtle use of urinals. Never before have we seen such tender peeing moments in a beer ad. (And talk about an innate biological linkage.) Of course, the use of bodily functions and bathroom humor in our increasingly American Pie-like culture is nothing new. Much of Ally McBeal takes place in a coed bathroom, and Best Buy did have that nasty spot showing a middle-aged guy trying out various toilet seats with real gusto. In print ads for Candies shoes, onetime MTV star Jenny McCarthy sat atop a toilet, her undies around her tattooed ankles, reading the Wall Street Journal.

This is different. It’s not really vulgar, laddie-boy stuff either. In spirit, it continues last year’s “Premature Pour” metaphor. (A sultry woman and a man make eye contact across a bar. She pours her beer. He pours his, but in his excitement, does it too quickly and the foam spills all over.)

The subtitle this year is “The Envy.” We don’t see anything actually spilling or pouring here, thank goodness. It’s all shot from the back. Two men go into a public bathroom and use side-by-side urinals. As if to mark his territory, each places his beer on top of his white porcelain facility. The man on the left has a generic-looking bottle; the man on the right is drinking from one of those squat, eye-catching Hein e ken Keg cans. As the guy on the left keeps peering over to the right, a particularly exuberant version of the old hit “The More I See You, the More I Want You” comes on. The freaked Heine ken drinker zips up quickly and leaves.

It works for shock value, yes, but the casting, acting and timing (even the timing of the placement of the subtitle) are all subtle. It helps that it’s wordless, all cued by the music and the men’s gestures. And it certainly connects with the tagline, “It’s all about the beer.”

The no-dialogue/funny-body-language combo also pays off in “The Instant Upgrade.” A guy is smooshed into the middle seat on an airplane, looking appropriately miserable. The window-seat man leans into him, sleeping with his mouth open; the woman on the aisle is laughing uproariously at the movie while stuffing a free blanket into her bag. The music? The totally annoying Stealers Wheel ’70s hit: “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right/Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”

Our middle guy finally gets some relief—he is handed a Heineken can and a napkin. Here, the humor is kind of broad, but the sensibility is understated. He doesn’t have his day transformed, Mentos-like, because he got the beer. He’s still screwed, but we can all sense his palpable relief.

Another spot, “The Poachers,” is set in a supermarket and uses the theme from The Pink Panther, which delightfully sets up some sort of sly operation. Two guys in a checkout line notice that the person behind them has hefted a case of Heineken next to their melons. The two ex change furtive glances, then one hurriedly moves the divider so the eight-pack is part of their own haul. It’s so subtle, you might miss it the first few times—but it nails the idea of true desire without showing a can or pouring the golden liquid or having anyone smile.

It’s canny advertising, as it turns out, for the agency that got canned.