The fact that celebrities endorse or represent a particular brand is nothing new in the beer industry. Immediately following World War II, many regional beers, using the new medium of television, utilized cartoon characters to represent their beers; while in the 50s and 60s, print ads hosted sport stars and Hollywood actors/actresses to endorse a particular brand. During this era, the use of celebrities was most closely associated with the current national brands including Pabst, Schlitz, Falstaff, and Budweiser.
Sports marketing came to the forefront after Philip Morris bought the Miller Brewing Company and Miller began a race with AB to see which establishment could purchase the rights to various sports and stadiums. Miller introduced Miller Lite and supported the brand by using retired, famous ex-jocks with their “taste great, less filling” highly successful campaign. In subsequent years, Ed McMann of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson became a longtime spokesperson for Budweiser. Other famous celebrities included Paul Newman who switched his endorsement from Coors to Budweiser and shortly thereafter put a Bud logo on his racing car. Coors selected Mark Harman to endorse their beer, followed by Pete Coors, and the brand has successfully used Sam Elliott’s voice-overs for years.
Domestic brewers have had varying degrees of success using celebrities; however, imports as a whole have not used screen idols to endorse their products with the exception of Heineken who has used cameo appearances with some celebs. In recent years Heineken tied into the James Bond franchise going so far as to use Daniel Craig in some of their ads. The brand also retained Neil Patrick Harris as a spokesperson for Heineken Light. One can argue as to the effectiveness of these ads, however, that particular campaign was short-lived.
Heineken recently announced the hiring of professional golfer Phil Mickelson as spokesperson for Amstel Light. This is somewhat baffling in that Amstel Light is almost a memory in beer. Heineken recently tried to pursue Michelob Ultra using Amstel Xlight, a low carb light beer that went absolutely nowhere. Perhaps by using Mickelson for a beer that has little to no distribution, Heineken is trying to reach Generation Xers, or the last of the retiring baby boomers. In some way this campaign resembles what Pabst did 10 years ago with Schlitz. Pabst targeted Florida, which witnessed the first wave of boomers retiring and reintroduced Schlitz, a beer that generation grew up on. Pabst employed billboards and new distribution in the hopes of motivating the boomers to return to the beer. Unfortunately, the ploy did not work.
Heineken will be using Mickelson to advertise a beer that has no distribution, especially in the on premise accounts. This campaign appears to be a reach for Heineken and a waste of Mickelson’s appeal. Had Heineken used Phil to promote their Heineken Light, at least they would not be speaking to empty shelves. The question is: why is Heineken using a highly regarded golfer to prop up a basically non-existing brand? Mickelson has become somewhat of a social media sensation with his posts, but this relationship seems to miss the target. Remember, Ultra is the main beer sponsor of men’s professional golf.
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