Two men watch football at home and as an exciting play happens, one hands the other a beer and their hands touch. Everything pauses, a love song kicks in and the screen reads "The Male Bonding Incident" and a song begins playing "This magic moment..."
The two men then jump to opposite sides of the couch, adopting butch poses and nervously looking back at each other. As the TV spot ends, one says, "You know what this game needs? More cheerleaders." The other says, "Yeah."
This ad is funny because it is clearly on target about the nature of how presumably straight men generally interact with one another. While it is entertaining, it lands in the Negative category because of what it says about where the subject of gayness is for most men.
The company was quite concerned how the ad would be received and made the uncommon effort to test it with gay focus groups, as well as usual general audience testing. To Heineken's pleasant surprise, the gay focus group apparently liked the ad and no changes were known to be made.
Simon Bowden, Executive Vice President and Creative Group Head at Lowe Worldwide, has said about the commercial, "Male-bonding was not something the client asked for or was expecting. We tossed the idea around that guys are very funny about physical contact with each other. Since I’m from Europe, where men actually do hug and kiss each other when meeting, maybe I felt more comfortable with this idea. It isn’t the same here in the US, that’s for sure. Guys here are a little weird about physical contact.”
He continues, "We decided to focus on the male shrine of the couch in front of the TV at the football game. This is where wholesome twenty- to thirty-something males can bond over a few beers. In this spot, there is a completely accidental, an innocent touch, that takes place as they pass a beer. But that’s enough to put the fear of God into them. They get back to their game, quickly commenting on the cheerleaders. This offers reassurance about their masculinity, and is pretty funny too. We left it intentionally ambiguous as to the sexual orientation of the guys. Certain people thought it was targeted to this audience or that audience. We wanted you to read into it whatever you wanted to read into it. We were tapping into that awkward feeling that lead you to question yourself, your friends, and so forth.
“At the time, we thought it might be a little edgy or risky for the client, at least as concept. The only way to get them to consider something of this nature was to execute it and then present it to them. We found a director who loved the idea so much that he shot it for us at his own cost. We presented the finished cut with music and the client loved it. They were also understandably nervous, but to their credit, they ran it."
After it began running with the rest of the campaign, according to the USA Today Ad Track Index
, those familiar with the spots, only 17% of general audiences liked them 'a lot' vs. the Ad Track average of 22%. Plus, 19% disliked the ads, higher than the average negative of 13%. Only 17% think they are very effective vs. Ad Track average of 24%. However, 57% think the spots are 'somewhat effective,' a high score.
Steve Davis, Heineken USA's vice president of marketing, maintained the provocative campaign was working. And he made no apologies: 'Sex makes the world go 'round. Provocative is a very good place to be, as long as we're not inflammatory.'
The campaign actually scored higher with women: 20% liked the ads 'a lot' vs. only 8% of men.
This was the second American commercial from Heineken with a gay theme, both with a similarly uncomfortable take on the idea. However, a 1999 Heineken ad that ran in the UK took a more neutral approach to the subject, and many others have since followed.
Beer companies are well represented in The Commercial Closet, largely due to an effort in the mid-1990s to pull away from the industry's longterm sexist advertising themes that objectified women. Such commercials were summed up by the Swedish Bikini Team. Looking for new material to mine, brewers began extensively playing with gay and transgender themes in their advertising. However, because beer drinkers are stereotypically macho, the tone of many of the ads were more often negative.