Creating valuable customer experience is kind of brave. Coming up with ideas that serve the brand must be done without fear. Being responsible for the results takes courage.
Daring To Be Different.
10 min. reading
Heineken, one of today’s most popular beers, has the most Facebook fans among beer brands, and regularly evokes genuine enthusiasm for its activities. Whether it is connecting the metaverse to real-life experiences, creating the world's first virtual beer, inviting fans to the Champions League, or spreading ideas about sustainable business, Heineken is always more than just a beer seller.
The Dutch beer producer has been on the market since 1864 and ranks among the top 10 best-selling beers globally. It is a key promoter of brand-experience marketing, cleverly integrating technology into all aspects of its brand. In recent years, consumers have been able to enjoy pool parties, beer-cooling billboards, and a robot combined with a refrigerator to accompany them with their favorite drink wherever they go.
It is no wonder that Heineken is among the world’s most famous beers – it is supported by innovative television advertising and thoughtful product placement. For example, James Bond has been enjoying Heineken since 1997, and there is ongoing innovative work on social networks.
Marketing manager Nada Steel explained in an interview with AdNews how Heineken aims to create a deeper connection with customers.
From a strategic point of view, “the brand is primarily about penetration, gaining new reach, and creating organic brand supporters.”
And it is obviously succeeding, considering the 24 million Facebook fans.
Steel is aware that people aged 18 to 29 are already spending significantly less time watching TV. This led Heineken to reach out to them in other ways. In recent years, the brand has begun focusing its attention on experiential marketing.
With 24 million followers, Heineken has the most popular Facebook page, at least among beer brands. Budweiser trails behind with nearly 14 million followers. Heineken knows its audience and how to please it extremely well. In 2012, for example, the Brazilian site launched an event called “1 Like, 1 Balloon” where, for each new fan, people from the Brazilian branch of Heineken inflated a green balloon and placed it in their office. The office was full of balloons in just one day, and the whole challenge received over 1,000 comments and brought in 1 million new fans.
Then in 2021, Heineken introduced a robot called B.O.T. (Beer Outdoor Transporter), which, having been combined with a fridge, could hold 12 beers and was able to make the summer more pleasant with frosty beverages. It could go almost anywhere with its owners and entertain them with programmed phrases. And though it's already sold out, its website Heineken B.O.T., is still alive today. In short, rather than losing its position in search engines by regularly deleting content, as is common with most brands after campaigns, it is more convenient to use it humorously.
And rather than thinking about product sampling and digital content separately, the task of the modern marketer is to interconnect these two channels.
Heineken is originally from Amsterdam, and in 2017, visitors to the city could look forward to the brand's personalized beer. Heineken obtained information about people planning to visit Amsterdam, and about a month before their trip, it targeted them with an online banner advertisement offering them a bottle of beer for free.
After they competed the form, a chatbot contacted the person, informing them about the process of making personalized beer and asking what they wanted to see in Amsterdam. Upon arrival, the passenger could go to the brewery and pick up a bottle of beer with a label bearing their name. As a bonus, Heineken wrapped the bottle in a map, with specific tourist places from the previous chatbot communication marked.
Heineken's marketing team does an excellent job at major cultural and sporting events. Heineken has long sponsored the Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, and the brand repeatedly prepares truly memorable events for football fans. In 2016, the final of the UEFA Champions League was held in Milan, Italy. A few days before the kick-off, three couples visited a restaurant in Sao Paulo, Brazil. While they were looking at the menu, the men found a voucher for a spa with instructions that they could give it to their partner. Meanwhile, the men themselves could enjoy the opening ceremony at a local Heineken party.
The men accepted the offer and sent their wives to the supposed spa. We can only imagine their surprise when, just before the start of the league, they learned that their wives were actually in Milan watching the matches live at the stadium.
While many brands focus on sponsorship, only a fraction of them can benefit from the money invested by gaining something for their communication while attracting hordes of new fans. And it is no difficult journey, as Heineken showed back in 2014. Instead of just handing out tickets on the brand's social media, tickets to the Wembley Final were hidden around the city under the iconic seats from the stadium, and people could find them.
One more example... What do you do when you only have one ticket? The correct answer lies in the Road to the Final campaign. An excellent combination of an interesting story and fantastic production keeps you in the game until the final.
A few years later, at a time when government regulations forced most people to stay home, Heineken decided to take action. Instead of pitying the empty stadiums, it took a piece of the stadium and brought it to the people – right into their living rooms. An amusing example of the fact that even sales promotions can be conceived through an experiential approach, thereby scoring more valuable points in the battle for attention among beer brands.
Heineken also remains highly active in the field of ecology and has pledged to use renewable resources for its beer production and for the operation of specific bars and restaurants. By 2030, it plans to deliver renewable energy to half of its partner bars and restaurants in two dozen major cities.
A photovoltaic billboard located in Brazil, used to chill beer in the popular Brewteco bar, embodied such commitment in 2022. This billboard was created on the occasion of one of the world's largest music festivals, held in Rio de Janeiro.
Eduardo Picarelli, Head of Business for Heineken in Brazil, said, “We want to take advantage of all activities held in Rio de Janeiro during the festival and draw attention to our Heineken Green Energy program.”
“Beer-cooling solar panels create innovative connections with audiences and encourage people to engage in an important dialog in a brand new way.”
Heineken also launched the Green your city sustainability platform in 2020 to focus on greener cities, circular business and responsible consumption.
Although Heineken did not define these global commitments until 2020, it came up with green projects much earlier. In 2017, for example, it sponsored the Plus Pool floating swimming pool to be placed on a river in New York, so that people could swim in it despite the high levels of pollution in the local rivers. Heineken pledged to support the project with $100,000 if 100,000 people signed the petition. Although this pool is still waiting to be implemented, the impact on the brand's perception in the target audience is clear.
You can also enjoy Heineken beer in the metaverse. In 2022, Heineken Silver saw the light of digital space, becoming the first virtual beer ever.
At first glance, creating a virtual bar may seem like a difficult step to comprehend. Pixels, after all, are not yet drinkable. But the move was deliberate. Rob van Griensven, global director of digital marketing for Heineken, said that they are primarily targeting Generation Z and looking for a place to spend more time with them.
Before entering the metaverse, Heineken had launched a series of surveys to ensure that it could communicate in a way that would support its consumer experience. It created a virtual bar with a DJ and a virtual beer.
Rob van Griensven said:
"The main thing for Heineken was to stop taking ourselves too seriously. Therefore, we chose an ironic note, because humor and sarcasm play a key role in the metaverse in particular."
"Our plan was a self-aware joke right from the start, claiming that we were launching virtual beer, though obviously virtual beer cannot be drunk. This enabled us to advance our goals toward providing a unique experience for our customers and for the ensuing conversation."
This approach has paid off for Heineken, and entering the virtual world has earned over 2 billion mentions across media, social networks, and influencers. This example is a huge inspiration for many corporate brand marketers, who often blindly push their way through product benefits rather than finding the courage to implement more creative concepts.
However, the story of virtual beer does not end there. Heineken planned to cross the boundaries of the metaverse and has created an activation in the physical world that links to the virtual one. It transformed selected businesses across Europe to correspond in some way with the Heineken metaverse. Thus, the brand became connected in the physical world with the people with whom it was in contact in virtual reality.
Heineken beer occupies a unique place in the market. In recent years, as part of its brand experience marketing, it has come up with ever more creative ideas to attract interest across global media. It is a prime example of how moving a product away from annoying, ubiquitous push-to-sell marketing will catapult a brand into the lead with its audience, building a strong connection with the brand's message.
For example, when it launched its non-alcoholic variant, Heineken created a PR stunt using the first beer fridge, inviting drivers to have one for the road right in their garage.
Or when it launched its exclusive "January dry package" in January 2019, offering 31 cans of non-alcoholic Heineken 0.0 for free.
The results of the Heineken team's campaigns show clearly why brands should shift focus to experiences and develop the brand’s customer rapport through an experience marketing strategy. Although few people actually live through these experiences in person, their wit and interesting nature help them break through and address millions of users in the digital world. This is where sales are decided today.
Jonnie Cahill, Head of Marketing for Heineken USA, reminds us that Heineken is not a business about selling beer. It is about sociability, fun, joy, and community. These are the experiences they want to continue to share with customers.
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To get inspired and learn how brand leaders do it, visit the Banana Papers. The best live marketing archive helping brand managers succeed in the current Age of Experience.
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