Barney Stinson just sold you on Heineken… Here’s how.

… or Neil Patrick Harris… or Doogie Howser… take your pick.

Here’s why this commercial is great:

  1. It pushes the envelope of beer advertising
  2. It uses the technique of frameline magnetism
  3. It employs the serial position effect

Pushing the envelope

A beer commercial shouldn’t be humorous about drinking excessively, and especially about drinking and driving.

It just feels like one of those taboo subjects to steer away from in that industry. In this case, NPH makes it funny in how he addresses the fact you shouldn’t do these things.

Polished comedians do this all the time. They take a taboo subject and approach it at a new angle that surprises the audience. Then, the comedian traverses the high-wire using wits and humor as a makeshift balancing pole.

NPH does this extremely well as he uses his unique blend of humor to walk a fine line. Just like a tightrope walker, it creates suspense and gains attention as the audience watches to see if the entertainer will fall.

This ad does a great job of holding your attention while slipping their message in twice of being the “best tasting light beer”.

Tightrope walking

Other beer ads address the issues of drinking excessively, but it feels slightly disingenuous when they say, “drink our beer, but be responsible.” A Miller Lite ad might toss in, “Great Beer, Great Responsibility” at the end of a spot, but it can feel flat (pun intended) and like rhetoric at times.

That message lacks some credibility (after all, their best customers might not be the most responsible) and such messages have become the norm for beer advertisements.

This is a great way to be ignored, but more on that later.

Frameline magnetism

Advertising expert Roy Williams coined this phrase. This is when you intentionally leave something out so the viewer or listener can fill in the ______.

This is powerful when used in advertising because the commercial changes from a one-way dialogue to a two-way conversation. It becomes slightly more engaging when you’re filling in the blanks of an advertisement.

Media networks won’t allow consumption in beer ads. So instead, Heineken pokes fun at this fact and also shows NPH trying his hardest to not take a sip. Instead of showing him drinking the beer, they get your mind to fill in that scenario. Plus, we want what we can’t have, right?

I must admit, I originally thought of this when I saw a different Heineken ad where NPH steps off-camera to take a sip and then comes back on screen. However, I cannot find this ad anywhere, including the Heineken YouTube channel. I wonder if it was flagged for making the viewer visualize him taking a drink. Considering the sip wasn’t shown at all, it emphasizes the power our brains have to fill in the gaps. Whether or not the ad was removed for this reason, it was a great use of frameline magnetism.

For an even better example of frameline magnetism, check out the end of this Geico ad. They get you to finish their tagline in your mind. You could call that a self-induced slogan.

The serial position effect

This is a psychological principle relating to the retention of information. More specifically, it maintains the fact that participants typically have an easier time retaining information that is presented first and last. That’s why you might jumble up a phone number, but recall the first and last digits with ease. The stuff in the middle is much easier to forget.

If you watch the Heinenken ad again, you will notice that it opens with a mention of winning the best tasting light beer in the World Beer Tastings Championship. Then the ad finishes with a reminder of this (that also uses visual frameline magnetism) showing half of that medal.

My guess is that Heinenken told the ad agency that they wanted to show off their win at the Beer Championship. The thing is, the vast majority wouldn’t notice or care until you add all that attention-holding content in the middle.

Beer medal

Nice visual use of frameline magnetism.


I suppose the serial position effect is the reason comedians start and end with their best jokes. It also could be the reason that the subject line and the “P.S.” in an email are the most read content of a message.

So, if you want to get your message through in your next email, try dropping it into the P.S. at the end.

What does this mean for your advertising?

For starters, take a listen at what everyone else in your industry is saying. Take notice when you hear your competitors ads. Check out their websites and see what they’re emphasizing. Now, if you find a common theme… write that down and then avoid that in your ads.

The quickest way to get your message ignored is to say exactly what everyone else is saying. Even less effective than that is to be the second or third person spraying that message out there.

So, first, don’t say what everyone else is saying and, second, at times intentionally leave out known information that the listener can fill in. Fifteen minutes with Geico can do what, again?

To stand out, you can also go against the grain and point out what’s wrong with your industry.

To demonstrate how this can be done, we created custom music (so we don’t sound like everyone else) and take a jab at the car industry in this spot promoting a car dealership.


Client: Heineken
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, New York

Client: Geico
Agency: The Martin Agency Inc.

Tightrope image: Kevint3141

Serial Position Effect: Article

Please share if you happen to have a link to the Heineken commercial where NPH steps off camera to take a drink.