Heineken Stirs Authenticity Debate With New “Odyssey” Campaign

Heineken addresses the doubters around its epic new campaign, “The Odyssey.”

A message from a PR exec at Heineken marks an unexpected twist in the latest installment of the beer brand’s “Legends” campaign which kicked off last Thursday with the debut of its new global TV ad, “The Odyssey.”


The brand’s agency Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam recruited 20 non-actors to feature in “The Odyssey” commercial, all playing the same character but each performing a unique skill–everything from bird calling to dancing the conga and doing the limbo, from sliding and tumbling to high-speed undressing–to impress fellow passengers on a cruise ship.

Following a series of ads featuring legendary characters, the idea was to show that all men–even real ones–have unique skills, W+K creative director Thierry Albert explains: “Every man is pretty damn good at something.”

Casting was done across several capitals including Paris, New York, London and Amsterdam with most of those selected non-actors, adds fellow creative director Faustin Claverie: “So we can totally vouch that there are legendary men everywhere in the world.”

Now, the agency has released a video statement from the brand owner responding to “some people” who have been “questioning the authenticity” of its commercials online. A number of viewers have claimed the non-actors featured in “The Odyssey” are “as fakes as their beards,” the PR rep featured claims.

The defense is tongue in cheek, of course–right down to the shark in the canal visible through the window behind her desk. But it’s also a way of directing viewers to watch all 20 of the casting tapes for the Odyssey ad which have now been posted online along with an interactive film allowing you to explore the “Odyssey” ad in more detail to learn the back stories for each.

“We wanted to evolve the Legends campaign and by doing so bring it closer to our drinkers,” Heineken global communications director Sandrine Huijgen explains.


“When we saw comments about “The Odyssey” commercial, we wanted to show that there are no boundaries between real and fake, proving that real men have unique skills and that everyone is legendary at something.”

“The Odyssey,” which was directed by Tom Kuntz through MJZ Films, follows “The Voyage,” an integrated campaign launched in 2013 which began with a TV ad in which a traveler overcomes the culture shock of arriving in a foreign land–in this case, India–with the help of a familiar beer.

“The Voyage” provided a platform for “Dropped,” a social experiment and brand entertainment initiative in which six men from different parts of the world were dropped into remote locations with only basic supplies … and a cameraman on hand to film the adventure for others to watch on Heineken’s Dropped You Tube channel.

The latest “spokesperson” film is a good example of how the Heineken brand likes to speak, Huijgen adds: “We’re a beer brand and entertainment is close to our heart and even if we have inspiring values we prefer to speak about them with a light-hearted tone.”

About the author

Meg Carter is a UK-based freelance journalist who has written widely on all aspects of branding, media, marketing & creativity for a wide range of outlets including The Independent, Financial Times and Guardian newspapers, New Media Age and Wired.