‘I’m Alpha Male Adjacent.’ Neil Patrick Harris on Why He’s Still Doing Ads for Heineken Light

Actor begins 4th year of 'refined beverage hilarity'

Headshot of Tim Nudd

It was back in the summer of 2014 that Neil Patrick Harris did his first ads for Heineken Light, via Wieden + Kennedy New York. From the beginning, the campaign has had a meta humor, wryly commenting on beer advertising generally—including, in one of the early spots, Harris why pondering why there are rules prohibiting him from drinking on TV.

W+K is now off the Heineken account, replaced by Publicis, but the 43-year-old Emmy and Tony Award winner continues to advertise the Light brand.

Here's the latest 15-second spot, which broke Tuesday:

AdFreak caught up with Harris to ask him why he's still doing the Heineken Light work, what he thinks of the writing, and whether he actually drinks the stuff.

You've been doing Heineken Light ads since 2014. What convinced you to sign on at the beginning?

I'm a fan of supporting products that are adjacent to my own life and interests. When Heineken first approached me, I appreciated that they thought I would be a good fit to promote their beer—instead of a super alpha male type. I like to think I'm alpha male adjacent, and it's been very cool that these last few years have gone so well. Now, here we are again!

Why are you the right person to advertise this brand?

Aside from being a true fan of the beer (really … I am the proud owner of a Heineken Light kegerator), I think it's a fit because Heineken Light has a humor to it and isn't afraid to make jokes and take chances. Each new campaign allows us to continue to build on our years of refined beverage hilarity. And of course I love to work with any team that allows me to ad-lib and have a beer on-set.

Can you describe the humor here, and why it works for this product?

This newest installment of the campaign is all about "impossible feats." Many think it's impossible to brew a great tasting light beer since a lot of the light ones lose their taste in order to cut calories. Heineken Light stands out from the rest since it uses cascade hops—which are typically found in craft IPAs. So with that, Heineken Light has done "the impossible," and that's where we get to play with the humor of what else is considered impossible. I'm a magician, so challenging the impossible is kind of my thing.

Many of the ads are quite meta in their treatment of beer advertising clichés. What do you think of that approach, and of the sly quality of the writing?

One of my favorite things about working with Heineken Light is their trademark wit. The writers are awesome in that they've found ways to make each campaign different and continually funny—even letting me go off the cuff and put my own spin on things. I love working on an ad campaign with a beer that can poke fun at itself. Is it meta that I'm talking about my own humor here?

Do you add much to the scripts, in embellishing or improvising, or are the ads shot basically as written?

We do shoot as written, and then a bunch of takes that are totally unscripted. Ad-libbing, embellishing and improvising are all part of the fun. Add beer into that equation, and I'm pretty unstoppable. One of the great things about my partnership with Heineken Light is that we both share and appreciate a sense of cheeky humor.

How would you describe the character you're playing?

I get to be pretty true to myself in our Heineken Light ads—something that was important to me, and to Heineken. I think my shining personality and wit has been well represented in each campaign installment. This newest spot felt very organic. I got to use my hypnotizing skills while enjoying a Heineken Light.

Will you stick with Heineken for the long term?

We're in a pretty committed relationship these past four years. These things don't end easily.

What other current advertising do you admire, if any?

I'm actually a big Netflix watcher, so not up to date with the latest advertising. I'll let you know after the Super Bowl.

And you actually do drink Heineken Light?

I really have a Heineken Light tap installed at my house. Seriously. It's amazing.

Check out some more recent Heineken Light ads with NPH below: 


Client: Heineken

Campaign Title: Best Tasting Light Beer

Agency: Publicis New York

Global Chief Creative Officer, Publicis Worldwide: Bruno Bertelli

Chief Creative Officer, Publicis New York: Andy Bird

EVP, Executive Creative Director, Publicis New York: Joe Johnson

VP, Creative Director, Publicis New York: Jason Gorman

VP, Creative Director, Publicis New York: Einav Jacubovich

VP, Creative Director, Publicis New York: Jeremy Filgate

Associate Creative Director, Publicis New York: Lindsay Cliett

Associate Creative Director, Publicis New York: John-Paul Cannucciari

Copywriter, Publicis New York: Patrick Merritt

VP, Executive Producer, Publicis New York: Tim LeGallo

Associate Producer, Publicis New York: Rachel Tierney

EVP, Group Account Director, Publicis New York: Kathryn Harvey

Worldwide Account Director, Publicis Italy: David Pagnoni

VP, Group Account Director, Publicis New York: Shari Lederman

Production Company: Park Pictures

Director: Terri Timely

Line Producer: Dave Lambert

Editorial Company: Prodigious

Editor: Terence Ziegler

Executive Producer: Beth Fitzpatrick

Visual Effects Company: Art Jail

Executive Producer: John Skeffington

Producer: Adriana Wong

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.