Heineken International, Male Bonding Incident


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.

User Comments
Great. Straight or gay, I love it!

Basically what this ad says is that men have an inability to really bond and make friendship. Men should be insulted by this ad. Bonding, friendship, love, are all human experiences. And men are every bit as entitled and able to experience them as women. This ad is misandristic in nature for it undermines men's humanity, becuase if your go by this ad, men care about nothing but sports, beer, and sex.

I agree with Samir, Jim, Dan, Mark and Travis. This ad rocks! Hey guys, let's get together and watch some football, and make out!

George Atchley
This ad speaks directly to peer pressure in a testosterone-packed environment. Reality based and accurate. It holds a mirror to society and allows it to decide if it likes its own reflection. Bravo, Heineken!

Scott Alamar
Samir from San Diego could not have poignantly and articulately discussed the social critique this ad presents us with. Well said. Anything that is thought provoking is a benefit and well worth discourse. This ad forces the heterosexual audience to challenge their own perceptions and interpersonal interactions at a level that is palatable as it makes a mockery of our own levels of comfort.

James A. Clark Jr.
I think this commercial is why Mad TV decided to make a spoof of it. The male bonding and football... and guys trying to say they weren't gay after getting a bit too exicted with each other. LOL

Love it...am I the only one who saw the (straight?) guy on the left adjust himself after he moved, as though his pants were suddenly too tight??

Todd Hill
Watching two hetero(?) men who are obviously incredibly insecure about their own sexuality just doesn't induce me to buy beer - Heineken's or anyone else's. Don't we all have to see and endure enough of the stupid behaviour portrayed in the ad every bleedin' day of our lives?

Despite just bringing the gay topic more into the open, it also subtly pokes fun at how ridiculous and uptight gay mens' perspectives may be and displays how they treat and act around each other.

I really think this should be seen as positive. It laughs at the way most men see gayness, it's sweet and friendly. I like :)

After reading the first two comments, I feel like such a mental midget. I love that song, and it is cute on the surface. Some are just so cute that you can't fight every one.

David Gordon
Sorry, you're wrong about this ad, it isn't negative toward gay people. The proof is in the second look the guys give each other after their initial hand-holding discomfort. That turns the tone positive, the guys may be attracted to each other, all they need is a little time. If that second look weren't there, then I'd agree with you. But it is there. It even makes the "more cheerleaders" line funny, again implying that it is only a matter of time before more hand-holding will take place. The ad uses a gay-negative scenario and turns it into something positive. It's subtle, but I think it works.

Jim Walsh
You're way too uptight about the male bonding ad. Everyone, gay or straight, does that and gets uncomfortable. Chill out. Calling an ad like that homophobic makes us look ridiculous. I'm gay, and I've done the same thing, though it was probably the Tony Awards rather than football.

I always thought this commercial was funny and relevant, because it satirizes particular incidents that occur more frequently between straight men than they are willing to admit. It doesn't pretend that such instances are universal, but rather common, and the repression of what seems to be a mutual feeling of sexual curiosity when the men touch and look at another is endemic of the long standing assumption that homophobia is the product of such repression. This commercial marks a point where such curiosity is exemplified in the mainstream without hysteria or hyperbole, (the scene merely points to the possibility of homosexual tendencies within the men, it does not definitively confirm their homosexuality, and leaves the encounter open-ended) To conquer such forms of hatred, people must defy the attitudes and responses internalized by years of societal conditioning. Though the men move to opposite ends of the couch and make a phony declaration for the objectification of female bodies, the sexual charge and curiosity still lurks in the space between them. Bravo.

Dan Alderman
I think this commercial is cute as hell! This stuff happens all the time. It's not anti-gay. This isn't the straight people making fun of us. This is very clearly the straight people making fun of themselves.

I agree with the three previous people's comments, but I don't think anyone is 'making fun' of anyone or anything. I think it's just a clever ad that touches on a very human situation in a positive way. And like Samire and Jim, I think you're over-reacting. In fact, I don't understand how you arrive at your rating system. Having said that, thought, this is such an important web site I'll defend your right to rate them anyway you want... as long as you keep them coming! Thank you for not only bringing these ads to the internet but allowing people to submit their comments.

Eric L.
The problem i have with this spot is: how does this sell beer? Is the message "Heineken for those awkward moments" or "Heineken--preferred by jerks everywhere"? Any ad that shows consumers (l, g, b, t or breeder) in a poor light is negative.

Mark O'Gorman
i think that points made on curiosity are correct and that those made about societal conditioning are completely unrealistic -- it's a natural distaste!

I think this ad is funny! It makes fun of straight guys who like to pretend that a gay thought has never crossed their minds and allows gay guys to laugh a little at homophobia. Two thumbs up for Heineken.