This Ad Classic hails from the Netherlands, but became such a huge hit online - 15 million views in just the first three months - that it was rapidly rolled out around the world, inspiring a deluge of unofficial tributes or spoofs as well as several follow-ups from Heineken itself. The brewer had itself only recently taken the decision to abandon its conservative family-controlled corporate stance and leap into the rapidly consolidating global market with the acquisition of British rival Scottish & Newcastle. Meanwhile at long-time agency TBWA\Neboko, founding creative partners Cor den Boer and Diederick Koopal were handing over to rising stars Jeroen van de Sande and Jorn Kruijsen. The time was clearly right to try something new.
Jeroen van de Sande: "The brief from the client was actually 'We need a hit'. That was basically what they said. Heineken had a very successful series of ads in the Netherlands in the early 2000s, known as the 'Biertje' campaign. The payoff had different characters asking 'Biertje?' which means something like, 'You wanna beer?' That was really successful, but after that they lost track a little bit and did a few ads that were not so popular. So eventually they said, 'You know, we need another hit, another audience favourite.' For ourselves, we defined the mission as to stay as close to the beer as possible. We wanted it to be something that was really about the beer, about the love of beer, about the love that only guys can have for a good beer.
"Our creative director Cor den Boer had just moved into a new house and he had one of those walk-in closets in the bedroom. When he had housewarming parties he noticed how all his wife's girlfriends would react in the same way. 'Oh my God! A walk-in closet! Oooohhhhh!' For some reason, walk-in closets were just a thing at that time. There was that show 'Sex in the City' on the TV, and the walk-in closet was like every woman's dream. Cor said, 'We need to make the male version of a walk-in closet: a walk-in fridge'. That seemed like a very appropriate way to compare women's passions with men's passions.
"We presented about 10 different scripts but from the get-go we as an agency really loved this one. We told them 'We absolutely think this one, the Walk-in Fridge, this is going to be the hit that you're looking for'. But they wanted to do some research, and the outcome was that the research agency thought this particular idea fitted Amstel - one of the other beers in the portfolio - better than Heineken. So 'Yeah, unfortunately, we can't do this for Heineken, this is an Amstel commercial.' We said, 'Come on, that's crazy, this is all about class and style and pride in the beer. That whole fridge is packed just with Heineken beer. There's no Amstel in there.'
"We had discussions back and forth for something like two or three months. And then eventually the marketing director said 'Ah, screw the results of this research. We all love the idea. We're just going to do it.' They had like four quadrants in a diagram to show which beer fitted with what kind of idea, and he said, 'You know, we just move those arrows a little bit and we get the idea to fit Heineken. Screw it, let's do it.'
"Bart Timmer directed the ad. The funny thing is that it was actually produced as a local commercial for the Netherlands only. But then it became such a huge viral hit on the internet - it was one of the most viewed YouTube commercials of the year - that all the marketing directors from all the different Heineken regions started calling Amsterdam to say 'We want to air that spot too'. It was just such an international idea. People in Asia, people in South America, everybody got the idea, everybody loved it. So in the end it got aired in something like 45 different countries. Luckily we'd also shot the ad in English as well as Dutch as a stand-by for ad shows and the like, so it was pretty easy to adapt.
"For Heineken it was proof that it was actually possible to do an international campaign. Before that every local market had their own campaign, which is of course extremely expensive. They thought 'We can't do an international campaign because Heineken means something completely different in all those different regions.' They always believed that the cultural differences between one country and another were too big. They always thought it couldn't be done, and through this commercial they accidentally discovered that it could!"