The fast growing beer brand is roaring with a new global campaign as people seek to ‘uncage’ themselves after two years of Covid-19, Global brand Director Sean O’Donnell tells LBB’s Laura Swinton
2022 is set to be a big year for Tiger Beer. For one thing, it’s the Year of the Tiger and if you’re a brand that’s originally from Singapore and popular across Asia, a whole zodiac year that shares your name is an opportunity that you don’t want to waste. And for another, it’s looking to reignite the momentum that saw it roar to the fore before the pandemic as the fastest growing premium beer brand on the planet.
The brand has just launched the first phase of its Year of the Tiger marketing, fronted by South Korean soccer superstar Son Heung-min. The campaign was created by Publicis One and urges people to make The Year of the Tiger ‘their’ year, drawing inspiration from the brand’s Uncage Your Tiger brand platform. It also marks a big global push for the Heineken-owned beer as it looks to better integrate its marketing within Asia and push more aggressively outside of the region.
For Tiger’s global brand director, Sean O’Donnell, who moved to Singapore to join the team 18 months ago from Heineken’s New Zealand brand DB, the Year of the Tiger has been a key focus ever since he touched down.
“It’s been rather intense, we’ve been working on this for well over a year. I remember when I first started in the role one of the first conversations was: you realise 2022 is the Year of the Tiger! The Tiger brand has grown since the last Year of the Tiger in 2010. The brand was significantly smaller and I’d say more of a regional brand whereas now we’re a truly global brand,” says Sean.
To make the timing even more interesting, the less severe Covid-19 strain Omicron means that there’s a sense of cautious optimism around 2022 and, at least, a sense that much of the world is ready to press pause on the binge watching and unglue itself from the sofa.
“Having had two years of Covid, everyone’s getting itchy feet. I think now is a great time to have a Year of the Tiger because people have been ‘caged’ for the last two years - now there is the chance to uncage and follow your passion,” reflects Sean. “Ultimately, the Year of the Tiger is about courage, bravery, boldness, and I think a lot of people are looking for that, the way the world’s been.
The year kicks off with a ‘festive’ campaign, geared around the celebrations of the Lunar New Year. However, the New Year celebrations only really last a couple of months and Sean is keen that the brand makes use of the full 12 months. And so that means there will be waves of activity and messaging throughout the year, and there’s more surprises in store to keep people engaged.
Eye of the Tiger
Squarely in the eye of this Tiger is its target audience of so-called ‘new progressives’ - outward-looking 20 and 30 somethings keen to embrace what the world has to offer. In its local marketing, the brand has consistently celebrated contemporary culture in markets like Vietnam and Singapore. Now it’s looking to soup that up, bring those real flavours of modern Southeast Asia to the rest of the world and push further with its creative.
“I guess with our positioning being premium - the majority of brands being in the mainstream categories - we’ve been able to show the brand to be a lot more progressive, and this Year of the Tiger we really want to stretch that, not only in how we are using our global and local ambassadors but also in our creativity.”
Son Heung-min is one such ambassador. The South Korean forward became the most expensive Asian footballer in history when he moved to Tottenham Hotspur for £22m in 2015 and according to Sean, he's someone who defies the odds just as Tiger Beer does.
The brand won’t just be targeting the passionate, optimistic ‘New Progressives’ of Asia. This is a global campaign. Brazil - and the broader Latin American region generally - is an area in which the Tiger brand sees a lot of potential. Indeed, alongside Asia and Oceania, Brazil is one of the first markets where the new campaign is rolling out.
The Tiger Leaps from Singapore to Brazil
The story behind why Brazil is of interest begins, somewhat counterintuitively, in Nigeria. Three years ago, the team decided to test the global ambitions of Tiger in one of the world’s biggest beer markets, and so they headed to Nigeria to launch the brand. And it’s success outstripped even Heineken’s expectations.
It turned out that the premium Tiger brand and messaging about defying the odds, following one’s passion and having courage resonated well in a developing country with a growing economy and a high proportion of under-30s. Hoping that they could replicate this success, the team tried to find another country with a similar mentality and demographic and landed on Brazil, a young country (the average age is 33.5 years) and, prior to Covid-19, the fastest growing economy in the world. Market research confirmed that the tiger icon and imagery, as well as the brand’s ethos, resonated particularly well in Brazil and across Latin America.
Creatively and personally, it’s been a revelation. Working with the Brazilian operating company and the Brazilian creative teams at Publicis has ended up being about more than translating the brand and localising a campaign. It brought a whole new flavour to the brand and ideas that could have a real impact back in Tiger’s original hunting grounds of Southeast Asia.
“The creativity is fantastic,” enthuses Sean. “We’ve brought a really dynamic brand with some great assets - the Brazilians have picked that up and added their own layer of creativity. It’s brilliant because there are things we’ve learned from our Brazilian operating company that we now want to take back. The cross fertilisation of the ideas built around Uncage Your Tiger is really exciting for the brand. We’ve seen the same with Nigeria as well. They’ve brought in some highly creative people and brought in some different elements to the Tiger Brand that we hadn’t seen previously. It’s exciting.”
Tiger's Go-Faster Stripes
To date, much of the marketing within Asia has been heavily localised. No central media strategy has meant that some centrally-created assets have gone unused locally and English campaigns translated into local languages have subtly led to a gradual creative divergence - though Sean says what the brand has managed to do very successfully is communicate a clear and consistent message across the region.
Having come from a local role - and one focused on New Zealand, a country whose idiosyncrasies Sean knows inside and out - Sean has been delving into the cultural and linguistic particularities that impact the Tiger brand in different ways across Asia.
“We create all our communications in English, but very few of our markets use it and we translate it. With Uncage Your Tiger, for example, I found out that in many languages the word uncage doesn’t exist. So we’ve had to translate it to something similar - and there are different subtleties. One of the most interesting things, working closely with our operating companies in each market, was really sitting down with them and when we did show some of the concepts to consumers, understanding the differences in interpretations of what we were saying. It was super interesting and helped us tweak it to make sure that we’ve got the clear message throughout.”
Key to being able to orchestrate this international initiative and to integrate local and global approaches is data. “Heineken overall is becoming very data focused and data centric. Two years ago we were a lot more traditional in our marketing strategies and what we’ve seen is a quick transformation in the use of data. We’re not at the forefront but we are moving quickly and I think that is going to be a key part of this campaign going forward.”
And in yet another fortuitous spot of good timing, Tiger’s drive to change its structures internally, improving local and global integration, came just as Publicis Groupe was rolling out its own transformation project.
Between Publicis Groupe’s Marcel platform and its restructure having had time to bed in, Sean and the Tiger team have a whole world of creativity to draw on. “Now we have a core team there [at Publicis Singapore] but we are dialling in and tapping into all the Publicis resources globally. That’s really exciting; it’s a breakthrough for us. From a creativity perspective, we’re working with teams based in Milan, based across Asia, not only using the Singapore office but tapping into talent in Vietnam, in Korea. And there’s the Brazilian office too. We’re transforming how we work on Tiger because we want to be the most creative brand and that needs a lot of diversity in our thinking.”
Tiger’s Plans for the Roaring ‘20s
The year-long mega-campaign and deeper structural changes has set the brand up for a healthy 2022. Sean hints that more exciting partnerships may be in the offing and there’s a real sense of drive and purpose. So, fast forward 12 months, what will success look like?
“We obviously want to build Tiger’s brand awareness globally. We have significant strength in a few markets, but the brand is still developing in many markets. Our internal metric is what we call Brand Power. To build Brand Power beyond those three or four really big markets is going to be a key measurement for us as that shows that we’re setting up the platform and brand for long term success over a number of markets,” says Sean.
“Secondly I think a key measure of success is creativity,” he continues. “I think not many brands have this opportunity so we’re challenging ourselves. Publicis are really challenging me and my team and I’m challenging them as well. How can we truly be creative? Ultimately it needs to be content that cuts through and really means something. We know that brands that are more creative are more successful. And then, ultimately, we would love to see strong sales as well. We want to build awareness, build brands out but we also want consumers to pick up our beer and trial it. So trial is a big part of this campaign as well.”
With all of that new internal structure and external creative resources, Sean’s team have the ‘go faster stripes’ they need to get Tiger roaring in more markets throughout the Year of the Tiger and beyond.