How Heineken is Rocking Their Brews with Experiential Marketing


The most interesting man in the world. Billy Dee Williams and Colt 45. And those twins. Over the past decades, major beer brands relied on television commercials to portray beer drinking as an often masculine pastime that was reserved for tailgating, camaraderie-building, and after-work shenanigans. This is changing largely because of the burgeoning craft segment.

As of March 2017, independent, or craft, breweries, represented a 12.3 percent market share by volume of the overall beer industry. This number is up significantly from 2011, when craft brewers were at just 5.68 percent of volume of the U.S. beer market. The demographics of beer drinkers are also changing, as many Millennials are now able to legally drink alcohol. In fact, at 41 percent, Millennials represent the largest weekly beer drinkers. Of that number, 57 percent are weekly craft beer drinkers.

To cater to a younger, more diverse generation—the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, for that matter—craft beer brewers have placed a heavy emphasis on values, including the origin, history, and story behind their beers. Because Millennials prioritize experiences over material items, experiential and immersive marketing campaigns that emphasize lifestyle over product are becoming increasingly successful.

Now, more than ever, it’s important for brands to connect with consumers. To compete with their craft counterparts, major brands must appeal to this new generation of beer drinkers. Through experiential marketing, Heineken, the world’s second largest brewery, has successfully appealed to the Millennial desire for experience. Below are a few examples.

Heineken City Shapers Festival

In an attempt to get younger consumers to engage with its brand, Heineken has invested in localized, experiential activities. In July 2016, the brand launched the Heineken City Shapers Festival, which transported select Australian consumers to a secret location that combined food, music, and entertainment. The campaign, which combined experiential techniques with outdoor marketing and PR, created a physical environment for consumers to directly interact with the brand.

Nada Steel, marketing manager for Heineken Australia, told AdNews that the City Shapers Festival goal was not only to increase reach and market penetration, but also to build brand loyalty. She also claims that the campaign was successful because it combined a unique, immersive experience with localized marketing.

“What we've found for the 18- to 29-year-old demographic is they're quite allusive, they're watching less TV, they're increasing their consumption of outdoor, cinema, and digital,” said Steel. “They value the experience side of things. We have seen an uplift in brand metrics, which started with Cities, and we had a really good uplift in our personality statements, adoration, and in penetration.”

Open Your World

In addition to appealing to their experiential nature, breweries can also appeal to Millennials’ values and emotions. A 2017 advertisement in the “Open Your World” campaign challenged British citizens to break down social barriers to find common ground with those who have opposing views. The real-life social experiment showed divided strangers meeting for the first time, and conveyed a message of unity and connection.

What has been called the antidote to Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner mishap, the Heineken ad encouraged actual engagement in the real world. Rather than glamorize political and social situations, Heineken leveraged the concept of the “compassion effect,” which is considered to be a main ingredient in appealing to Millennial consumers.

To take things a step further, Heineken is partnering with the Human Library, a not-for-profit organization that hosts events that encourage interaction. The upcoming “Human Library Partnership” extension of the “Open Your World” campaign will feature real people with extraordinary backgrounds who can be “loaned out” for conversation. These experiential events, held at Heineken pubs in Edinburgh and Liverpool throughout summer 2017, seek to break down social borders and challenge stereotypes—all while enjoying beer, of course.

As these examples illustrate, it’s possible to transform a brand to cater to an emerging audience. Millennials prefer their messaging to be omnichannel and authentic. And modern consumers seek interactive experiences. Experiential marketing campaign inspire offline, tangible connections with customers. Omnichannel experiences further increase brand loyalty, but also pay off in the long run. Up to 49 percent of people create mobile video at brand events and 39 percent share them on Twitter.

Millennial consumers use digital sources and social networking to discover, research, and purchase products. They also prefer to interact with the most convenient channel possible. That’s why it’s essential for businesses to adopt an omnichannel strategy that merges in-person experiences with technology. Interactive digital signage bridges the gap between the physical and digital worlds. Touchscreens and other hardware combine an online presence with traditional, in-person experiences.

Heineken embraces this multi-platform mentality and delivers messaging and events delivered specifically to Millennials—not to their parents who grew up on Super Bowl beer commercials of yore.