Heineken’s Shutter Ads campaign from Publicis Italy took home a Grand Prix in Outdoor Advertising at this year’s Cannes Lions and it was the epitome of a Covid-19 piece of creative thinking. By turning the shutters of locked down bars into media space, paying bar owners to post Heineken ads on them, they created a campaign that was both driven by a sense of purpose and do-gooding while also being commercially savvy. Independent bars are important distributors for the brand, and helping them weather the pandemic is also positive for the beer longer term. It’s definitely a sub-trend we noticed at the festival – rival beverage company AB Inbev won a Creative eCommerce Grand Prix for a Draftline project in that ran across Latin America that supported independent corner shops.
Across Europe, bars have been slowly opening up – and thankfully, all of the bars involved in Shutter Ads were able to re-open. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Shutter Ads as it has inspired the Heineken team to explore new ways to support independent bars and retailers.
Bram Westenbrink, Global Head Heineken Brand, chats to LBB’s Laura Swinton about what the team has learned from the campaign.
LBB> Can you tell me about what triggered Shutter Ads - at what point did the idea to do something to support closed down bars come up?
Bram> The campaign was developed as a direct response to the bar closures and restrictions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic last year. We could all see the terrible consequences varying lockdowns were having on our industry, especially our independent partners, and we knew we had to step up to support them rather than pulling the plug.
A lot of brands pulled their media budgets and advertising as a direct result of the pandemic, but during a time of financial strain for many drinking establishments, we felt as a brand that it was our duty so to speak to help alleviate that strain and ensure we have bars to work with in the future. That was when we realised that by diverting out-of-home spend directly into the bars and placing advertising on their facades, windows and shutters we’re creating a new revenue stream for our on-trade partners that could ultimately help to alleviate some of their financial strains in this unsettling time.
We’re incredibly proud of this campaign as it showed us the power of collective action, by allowing our network to come together and support businesses around the globe, at a time when they were struggling.
LBB> And what was the response like from the bar owners - have you had a chance to hear directly from any? What impact has it had on their business?
LBB> It's a great example of a campaign that is both purpose driven and also commercially impactful - is it a mistake for the industry to consider 'purpose/for good' to be separate from 'commercial' in terms of marketing?
Bram> Our aim has always been to create campaigns that are relevant and resonate with people around the world, we therefore believe it is important for us to create campaigns that are both purposeful and commercially impactful. As you say shutters was the perfect mix of both – it is important that whenever we deliver a purposeful campaign it has real credibility and delivers value, which we think this campaign does and the fact that it has commercial impact for partners and Heineken® is also important in a tricky time for the industry.
LBB> One really interesting trend I think I've seen this year, amongst all sorts of sectors but especially with beverages and beer, is campaigns to support the independent bars and corner shops and such that distribute their product. Has the pandemic made you reassess or reconfirm the importance of those small businesses, and the symbiotic relationship between big brands and indie businesses?
Bram> We have always recognised the importance of our on-trade partners and have always tried to play our part in supporting them through campaigns such as ‘back to the bars’. The pandemic has certainly highlighted the importance of our relationship with smaller businesses and caused us to want to do even more to support these businesses.
LBB> As we move forward, to a hopefully more settled phase of the pandemic, how will those independent businesses factor into your priorities?
Bram> We think that it is important for Heineken to provide a message of support and hope for the future. Our priority is to continue to support local businesses to ensure that they stay open as they continue to endure commercial challenges caused by the pandemic. Whilst things are steadily improving in some countries, this isn’t the case everywhere and we realise it might take some businesses longer to recover, so we will offer our support to them however we can throughout 2021.
LBB> Is Shutter Ads something that you think might be able to evolve or expand - most places aren't entirely locked down now but it's still a great way to support businesses.
Bram> Certainly! Heineken remains focussed on supporting on-trade partners through a number of global and local initiatives and seeing how receptive our consumers and on-trade partners have been, we’re constantly looking for new ways to scale-up in the near future.
It was always important to us to create a campaign that had longevity to it and could evolve with the everchanging situation, and I think letting our on-trade partners know that we are here to support them in the long run, has also helped us to build and solidify genuine relationships with them.
LBB> How gratifying has it been to see the performance of Shutter Ads at the Cannes Lions this week? How are you and the team celebrating the Grand Prix?
Bram> It has been great and highly rewarding to see the positive response to the campaign and we are all very proud of our big win. First and foremost, playing our part to support the industry was our top priority, but it is so rewarding to see our efforts being recognised within the industry.
In terms of celebrating, of course! The Heineken is on ice, we look-forward to celebrating properly with friends and colleagues when restrictions ease and it is sensible to do so.
LBB> I know that awards are really important for agencies, but for teams at brands like HEINEKEN, how important is this kind of recognition?
Bram> We have and always will play our part with or without recognition from the public, but it is certainly a great feeling to be recognised for our efforts. This kind of recognition shows us that we are appreciated and encourages us to keep producing work that can ultimately support our on-trade partners in the long run. We take pride in our work and have plenty more to look forward to over the coming months.