As anyone who knows us will attest, we can be contrary old sods at times. Offer us chocolate, we’ll say we prefer cheese. Offer us a Dairylea triangle, and we’ll insist on a Twix. Bang on at length about how little interest you have in The Royal Wedding and why should WE be the ones to foot the bill for it all, eh, and we’ll instantly forget our long-held republican beliefs in order to point out that okay, why not just say the taxes of the millions of people who do like having a Royal Family are what’s paying for all that, and your taxes can go towards paying for stuff that royalists might not like, like giving council houses to disabled immigrant one-parent same-sex couples or whatever.
Similarly, if we’re watching a recording of something on TV, as soon as we reach the end of part one we’ll dive like salmon at the remote, lest we accidentally listen to a single second of the sodding Go Compare jingle. And yet, dangle the link to a website containing hundreds of old TV commercials in front of our one good eye and we’ll pepper your surprised face with a flurry of wet kisses, whether you like it or not (in our experience, generally ‘not’).
The last of those things is what has recently happened (well, apart from all the kissing), when someone on the Cook’d And Bomb’d forum posted a link to the excellent Arrows Archive. “What’s that?” You might be thinking if you’re too busy to click on that link. Well, it’s an absolutely superb online archive containing around 25,000 British television commercials from the last 34 years, made available by The History of Advertising Trust. And we love it.
The database is searchable by year, product or title, and while you need to pay in order to download each commercial (at prices ranging from £1 to £50 per ad, depending on the download format), viewing the streaming previews is free and unlimited. With this in mind, we spent a couple of pleasurable hours over the long weekend revisiting the offerings from Heineken, whose "Refreshes The Parts Other Beers Cannot Reach" commercials (a slogan later followed by "Only Heineken Can Do This") we especially loved when we were tiny.
Sadly, when it comes to modern-day Heineken commercials, it seems we’re cursed with technically impressive and hugely expensive but annoyingly smug, safe and soulless Heineken commercials that can be easily used in dozens of different markets without having to worry about the kind of humour that ‘plays’ best in each market, or indeed, any translation. Even if we do really like the song by The Asteroids Galaxy Tour that features in it, we’d wager the majority of the audience can’t remember what the advert was even bloody selling ten minutes after they’d watched it. Which, is a bit of a no-no in marketing terms.
In no particular order then, here are our ten favourite Heineken adverts of times gone by. Click the titles to visit the Arrows archive page where the advert in question can be viewed, and note that the descriptions we’ve added often contain spoilers. Oh, and “the wat-ah in Maj-or-kah” one isn’t bloody there, as let’s face it, wasn’t really that good, was it?
We kick off with a short commercial from 1990, and it’s a delightfully well-animated offering. A burly crow is on the prowl, seeking a tasty snack. Suddenly, he spots the tail of an earthworm sticking out of the lawn. Gripping the back end of the non-arthropod invertebrate in his vicelike beak, he attempts to pull his lunch (the worm) from it’s ‘wrapper’ (the planet earth).
However, this is one annelid that isn’t quite as meek as you might expect - a tug-o-war match ensues, and the cocksure crow is eventually yanked underground, where (as the viewer soon discovers as the camera whip-pans beneath the surface of the ground), Burly Crow is scoffed in a single gulp by a Heineken-quaffing earthworm.
Of course, as Martin Luther might have been able to warn Mr Crow had he not been dead for 444 years by that point, one should always beware a Diet of Worms. Ha ha ha oh please yourselves.
The first of our celebrity offerings, this time from 1978. A scene possibly familiar to many of that era, a pantomime starring top family entertainer Charlie Drake, here in the guise of Aladdin. As perennial Heineken voiceover man Victor Borge points out, poor Charlie doesn’t seem to be having much success in getting the genie out of his lamp tonight. So, “Aladdin tops it up with a cold Heineken, and… abracadabra!”
Suddenly, a cartoon genie materialises from the lamp, leading Charlie to greet him with his well-known catchphrase, “’ello, me darlin’!” The bearded genie looks him over, and after a fleeting moment of evaluation (and in the voice of Kenneth Williams) camply coos “Hellooo! What is your heart’s desire, oh masterful one?” Unflinchingly, because contrary to received opinion not all comics of the age were ‘backs against the wall, eh lads’ types, Aladdin Drake demands his Heineken back, and the genie duly delivers, magicking up a pint of the brew in question, alongside an animated pint of it for himself.
Aladdin and the genie clink their pint glasses and enjoy their pints of Dutch inhibition-reducer, as Borge informs the viewing public that the duo “live very happily ever after... in-genie-ous!”
See, this is how good advertising can be. A commercial shown during just one day of the calendar year, which opens with Victor Borge announcing “a breakthrough in brewing technology”. You see, by utilising the power of COMPRESSED MOLECULES, the boffins at Heineken have managed to cram a whole pint of amber goodness into a mere half-pint can. Sounds impossible? Well, the commercial very clearly shows the hand of a scientist pouring the contents of the small can into a much larger glass, and filling it. So yeah, go figure.
The date this commercial aired? You guessed it: April 1st. Lovely stuff, and an advert that pretty much does Look Around You about two decades before Serafinowicz and Popper thought of it.
That wasn’t the only timely Heineken ad to appear during 1986, though, as the astrological event of the year also got special treatment. Another animated commercial, this time pleasingly using a ‘negative’ of space so that it’s black on a white background, other than what you’d expect, because it’s being excellent.
A smiley Halley Comet (initially looking a lot like an Austrian advert for condoms has escaped from Carrott’s Commercial Breakdown, it has to be said) is motoring his way through outer space at a fair old whack. Suddenly however, his engine begins to misfire, and he fizzles and pops to an undignified halt. Luckily, help is at hand, as an unseen earthling has attached a can of Holland-made bladder accelerator to a firework, and shot it into space towards the prone comet. Sipping from the can, Mr H Comet instantly feels invigorated, and proceeds to zip around the universe like a pinball, causing cartoonish mayhem as he bumps into various planets and stars. Departing from our screen, he leaves a dust-trail behind that spells “See you in 2060!”, as Victor Borge reminds us that “No Heineken, no comet”, in a vaguely veiled-threaty type way.
This right here is probably our favourite of the lot, and watching it now, it fills us with as much joy as it did when our age was still in single figures. All we’ll say is that the opening bars of the soundtrack immediately suggest that it’s going to be a George Lazenby-esque Milk Tray advert, but instead of ‘James Bond’, this spy is much more ‘Johnny English’.
Except, y’know, funny.
As Paul Eddington famously pointed out in A Bit Of Fry & Laurie, if you want to be properly funny, timing is everything, and this commercial played the topical card pretty damn well. For much of the second half of 1979, the entire ITV network (aside from Channel TV, as every schoolboy knows) were on strike, meaning that all that could be seen on 33.3% of the UK’s television channels for eleven long weeks was a blue background and some white text promising that “Transmissions will start again as soon as possible.” The network finally returned to the air in October 1979 (famously heralded by The Mike Sammes Singers).
Heineken tactfully left it a few months before playfully jabbing ITV in the ribcage with this nice little spot. A blue screen with white text informs the nation that there is a lack of refreshment to (sic) their television sets, while jaunty music played out. The voice of Victor Borge soon appears to highlight the problem, his familiar tone suggesting to viewers just might what the solution might be.
Industrial disputes weren’t the only current event to have it’s nose tweaked by the world’s third largest brewer. In 1991, with Britain set to become fully subsumed into the realm of the banana-straightening bonkerscrats of Brussels, a campaign for Heineken Export made great play of tabloid fearmongering.
Taking the form of a jolly newsreel report (“Britain Goes Continental”), a cheery Mr Cholmondley-Warner type announces the arrival of “the men from the ministre, here to make sure we tow the line”. As is their way, the platoon of identically-garbed pencil-pushers intrude on all manner of Proper British Ways, including the sound of leather-on-willow at the MCC is replaced with the sound of boule-on-lawn, and a group of athletes running the mile are ordered to replace chesting the white tape of victory with kowtowing to the red tape of uniformity. Happily, there’s one Eurotradition we’re all too happy to embrace, and it’s Heineken Export – which as the excellent tagline points out, is “A Great 0.57 of a Litre”.
A crackly, scratchy soundtrack. A monochrome title card proclaiming “Slovansky Filmovy Kolektiv Una’Di”, and a subtitle translating it as “Slavic Cine-Art Collective presents:”.
Cut to a monochrome film of a depressing eastern European bedsit. Title: “MODRA BONOZKA (THE BLUE SOCK)”. A bored intellectual pleads with his intellectual girlfriend Olga to listen to him, but she states that man alone cannot pre-ordain destiny. He insists that cathartic transcension must be an immutable prerequisite. “So, you repudiate Eisenbaum’s theory of metamorphic dualism?”, she asks. DRAMATIC PAUSE. “Yes”, says the man, and he stands up pointedly, holding a glass of beer in his hand.
CAPTION: END OF PART ONE.
As the screen fades to black, the voice of Victor Borge fades in. “Oh dear! This film is obviously in need of some refreshment.”
CAPTION: PART TWO.
The man finishes necking his glass of Benelux headache inducer, and suddenly starts talking in a cockney accent. “Let’s face it Olga, no way are we gonna crack the meaning of life tonight. How about me and you go down the disco?” “Ooh, can we ‘ave a curry after?” replies his similarly sudden Anglophonic girlfriend. “Yeah!”, says the thirsty philosopher.
Now, admittedly, it’s pretty much the “war-tah in Maj-or-kah” advert remade for Monty Python fans, but hey, we like it.
END CAPTION: “Heineken refreshes the part twos other beers cannot reach”. Majestically tortuous.
In one of approximately 672 minor television roles before Room 101 moved from radio to BBC Two, we see Nick Hancock turning up at the offices of fictional tabloid The Probe, hoping to get a job as a reporter from the beery, leery, sleazy editor. In order to prove his mettle, the editor shows him a series of photographs from the following day’s edition, asking if he can provide a suitable headline for each story.
First up, The Chiddingfold Women’s Guild Cake Contest. “Local Rev Judges Cake Contest”, offers the future host of They Think It’s All Over. “Nah!” counters the editor, “Playful Padre Picks Patsy’s Prize-winners!” His other suggestions follow much the same pattern, with his tame but unsensational offerings falling way short of the mark. Stepping towards his fridge, upon which is the slogan “If you can’t make it interesting… make it up!”, the editor grabs a lager, and begins to tell the future star of ITV’s Holding The Baby that he just doesn’t “have a nose for the gutter”.
Suddenly, the editor’s rejection speech is interrupted by his secretary, who is bringing in a selection of proofs for his inspection. Barking at his meek assistant to get out, she drops the armfuls of paperwork all over the floor, meaning the furious hack passes his can of Heineken to the future 90Minutes Magazine columnist while he assists. As this happens, the editor’s phone rings. and, sipping from the can of Heineken as he does so, Nick Hancock answers it.
As the editor stumbles around helplessly on the floor with his secretary trying to retrieve the billowing paperwork, the tabloid touch suddenly hits Hancock, who tells the caller that the ed is currently “totally trapped in a throbbingly torrid tangle with titillating Theresa, the tousle-haired temptress from typing”. Filled with pride at the turnaround in his now sure-to-be-new reporter, the editor bellows “go on, my son!”, only to be told that, get your sitcom reaction faces ready, the caller is his wife.
And yet! The fun doesn’t stop there – the picture fades to a shot of the familiar “refreshes the parts etc” Heineken slogan, only for the voice of Tabloid Editor to proclaim he can do much better, substituting the phrase with “Top Tipple Titillates Tongue Lesser Liquids Can’t”. Soaraway!
An artistic widescreen shot of a litter-strewn beach at dusk. An old tyre lies dormant in a pool of seawater. Some old rope grows ever sandier in the foreground. A discarded supermarket trolley lies part-buried near some jutting rocks. Slowly, the trolley rises unsteadily to it’s castors. Summoning strength, it slowly trundles itself back towards land, first over sand, then over undulating pebbles.
A country lane. A second trolley manages to free itself from a hedge, and makes its way towards the road, where it is met by the first trolley. They silently face each other as if confirming a shared goal, and head off into the distance.
On their way, they stop to wait for a third trolley, left festering in a putrid pond, who rises and joins his bewheeled brethren. A fourth trolley, along with a tiny child-trolley, join the group from under an oak tree. Together, the five roll onwards, towards the big city, as night falls.
Trundling speedily through the suburbs, more and more abandoned trolleys join the clattery army, from skips, down stairs, bursting through gates of scrapyards, as a watching tea-trolley jumps up and down joyously at the invigorating sight. Dozens, hundreds of trolleys scramble onwards, until they finally, after so very long, reach home… a supermarket carpark.
Cut to the supermarket manager’s office. The manager of the branch has been working late again, and as ever is the last person left. In order to relax a little, he had afforded himself a little treat, a small glass of Heineken lager, a little reward for his gruelling day before he begins the long lonely walk home, and some fitful sleep before the working day begins again in just a few short hours.
Opening the door to the supermarket in order to leave, a shocked expression falls upon his face, but this isn’t an expression of fearful shock, more of a person who can barely comprehend the majesty he sees before him. Blinkingly, he looks back toward his office, and spots once more the empty glass of Heineken he had just consumed. Of course! Now it all makes sense!
Cut to an exterior shot of the employee entrance, panning away so we can fully take in the sight that left the supermarket manager so breathless. Hundreds of supermarket trolleys, lined up to greet him, each facing devotedly in his direction, each finally glad to be back, back where they truly belong.
As the long shot finishes panning outwards, a caption fades into the top of the screen.
“Heineken refreshes the carts other beers cannot reach.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do advertising.