Brand Insight in association withLBB's Brand Insight Features

Brand Insight: Heineken

London, UK
Global Communication Manager Sandrine Huijgen on ‘Dropped’ and more

Heineken is no stranger to adventurous advertising. The 1940s and 1950s saw then Chairman and CEO Alfred Henry ‘Freddy’ Heineken introduce a number of crisp ideas around branding. And that smart approach to marketing is now part of the brand's heritage. The past two years alone have seen global tie-in events with movies like Skyfall and a ‘Dropped’ campaign that saw young men dumped in the middle nowhere and lots of award-winning Fredrik Bond-directed showstoppers. Just six days ago they announced a three-year extension of its already lucrative relationship with the UEFA Champions League that is set to take the partnership into 2018. Ahead of her presentation at the Ciclope Festival this week in Berlin, Laura Swinton spoke to the brand’s Global Communication Manager, Sandrine Huijgen.

LBB> This summer, we’ve eagerly followed the Heineken Dropped campaign – it seemed like an adventure both to watch and to be a part of. What were the strategic intentions behind the campaign?

SH> With Heineken Dropped, we wanted to bring to life our belief that to progress you must cross your borders and we were keen on trying a social experiment: what would happen if we dropped a group of young men out of their comfort zones? Would they show the world that they were travellers and not tourists?


LBB> What was the experience like for you? What were your personal highlights driving the project forward and seeing it come to life?

SH> Dropped was a fantastic and scary experience. We worked organically with W+K and Wefilm to ensure that the initial concept evolved into a social experiment. We were aiming for authenticity but also hearing and maintaining the Heineken voice, a mix of high quality production and wit. My personal experience - I was very much out of my comfort zone! As a team we’d created a lot of advertising, but never worked on an experiment. It is not easy to let go and see what happens. We prepared a lot up front, but as our travellers were in charge of their own decisions and experiences, we had to let go and hope to get the quality of footage needed to create an interesting and watchable film. There was no such thing as a new take or a different expression. I wasn’t even on the shoot: we had a very light team of three (director holding the camera, the producer and one creative).

LBB> Your talk at the Ciclope Festival this week is about Craft and Effectiveness.  How important is craft to effectiveness and why?

SH> Brand communication is effective if it’s interesting and unique to our consumers, and if we do a good job to be consistent, it converts into consideration and willingness to pay more for our brand. Effectiveness is a mixture of insight into our consumer’s lives and a strong brand point of view. Our brand point of view is our brand voice. We have chosen to make that voice unique through creativity and excellent execution. A strategy comes to life with execution otherwise it’s a worthless PowerPoint presentation. Creativity brings out interesting stories in a fresh way and craft is essential to execute and nourish our premiumness. All beer stories have been told. Our strategy and the craft we use is simply a fresh and premium way to re-invent those tales.


LBB> It seems like brand marketers are often kept quite separate from the craft side of the process – do brands need to take a greater interest in craft? And – Heineken is a brand that is associated with great film, and digital – what’s your approach?

SH> I believe that each marketer and advertiser has his/her own approach to craft. I will only speak for myself: I do my job because I love creativity and the craft needed to bring ideas to life. Take craft away from me and I quit! Working closely with creatives and directors is what makes me tick.  I want to be part of the production process that makes the idea real. I cannot be a client who delegates this part to the agency. Nobody will ever breathe my brand more than I do and will want to bring as much attention to detail as possible to make it ring true. Though I must say that W+K, especially Mark Bernath and Eric Quennoy, and the great directors we worked with: Fredrik Bond, Matthijs van Heijningen, Martin Krejci, Tom Kuntz and Rupert Sanders have brought so much to Heineken. I could not have dreamed for better partners. We have each brought a bit of ourselves to the great films that we have created together.

LBB> One thing that is particularly impressive is the way that Heineken world (created by Wieden + Kennedy and director Fredrik Bond) is able to accommodate brand tie-ins with events like the launch of Skyfall and of course, the UEFA Champions League, whilst retaining a consistent ‘Heineken’ voice. How tricky has it been to reach that point?

SH> One of our best decisions was to bring our biggest sponsorship platforms into the Legends campaign. Not only did it enrich the campaign but it has brought the sponsorship a consistent brand voice. Once the decision was taken it was simple strategically: we continued to elevate our customers by placing them within situations that were insightful to the sponsorship. The execution was harder as we needed to carefully keep the balance of Legends World with the rich worlds of Bond and UCL. Indeed W+K and both directors, Fredrik for UCL and Matthijs for Bond have been incredible partners to help us achieve that. They are the very best in their fields and they care so much for the quality of the work, it’s a hugely inspiring. 

LBB> How would you describe the Heineken target demographic and how do you think the brand responds to their needs?

SH> Heineken’s core audience is young men, living in big cities, globally - beer drinkers. We think we play a role in their lives by inspiring them in their desire to progress through entertaining and relevant stories and by engaging them to move out of their comfort zones and be curious to what the world has to offer…  as we have done in Dropped.

LBB> It’s been fun to see the brand getting playful with its integration of online and experiential elements. A great case in point is the ‘Crack the Case’ campaign for Skyfall that included an online game and real-life spy boot camp (we sent our young cub reporter along for his first mission when the event came to London). What were your main aims with this campaign?

SH> With Crack the Case, we wanted to show to our drinkers that they can navigate the world of 007 and experience handling spy scenarios. Bond is an incredible icon for our target audience, and we always begin with the belief that our consumer can do anything if they dare – Heineken can help them show it to the world! This was the spirit of the online game and the experiential events we did in London, Sao Paolo, Madrid, Ho Chi Minh City and many more cities.

LBB> Being adventurous and playful with advertising is not exactly a new development for Heineken – back in the 1940s and 1950s Alfred Heineken brought in a lot of fresh ideas around branding. How does this heritage influence and inform the modern day approach to marketing the brand?

SH> Indeed, within Heineken there’s a strong advertising culture and an entrepreneurial spirit; a great mindset for bold communication. We have that heritage, but it also means that the expectations are great and that re-invention is a rich tradition, as such, it’s not easy! When we started our journey with W+K we wanted to give that heritage a modern twist, moving our advertising out of the beer category and to behave more like Heineken’s past leaders.

LBB> One for the typography nerds, but we love the back-tilted ‘smiling e’ in the Heineken logo. It’s a simple touch that seems to encapsulate the ethos of the brand – I was just wondering if you could tell me a little more about the history of the ‘e’?

SH> It is not often I get asked that question, but ‘smiling e’ is indeed a story that Heineken employees have a lot of heart for. Freddy Heineken wanted to give Heineken’s name its own wink and decided to place the ‘smiling e’ in the brand name. It’s a mark of the brand’s optimism and it’s never taking itself too seriously. It is a personality trait that we still have and nourish today by everything we do. 

LBB> As a global brand I was wondering how the signature Heineken wit translates across different markets? How do you ensure a consistency of tone whilst addressing different cultures?

SH> This is a great question that we constantly wrestle with. We started by trying to find commonalities amongst our drinkers around the world, rather than differences. We are lucky that our audience, globally, has the commonalities in any target group. They’re connected to the world online, share virals and are interested by the same global stories. We also defined the wit of Heineken to travel well: we hardly ever use voiceovers and our humour is very visual. It is about fresh ways to look at things and carries a nice twist to the expected and light-hearted, full of fun energy. 

LBB> Heineken has worked with Wieden + Kennedy for several years and together you’ve created award-winning campaigns… what is the key to a successful brand-agency relationship?

SH> W+K is a great match with Heineken as they are matter of fact, fun and always want to make new and unexpected things. They are provocative, ambitious and challenge us all the time. I really enjoy working with them because they let me in: they are very collaborative and open to working organically. We are a team in the entire creative process: they participate in the brief crafting. We have many conversations as the creative idea takes shape and we work together with the directors within the final production. It is the best way, in my opinion, to produce great work. We all put a part of who we are into it and we are only a bike ride away within the small city of Amsterdam…