Heineken Breaks From The Mainstream

When Lesya Lysyj joined Heineken USA in 2011 as chief marketing officer, she knew she had two things going for her: a product that men absolutely love and a category that isn’t shy about using humor as a marketing ploy. But Lysyj recognized that to elevate an iconic beer brand like Heineken, long associated with the popular James Bond franchise, she needed to move away from the sameness of mainstream beer advertising.

"If you ran a reel of 10 pieces of domestic beer advertising, you'll see guys with guys, guys with a dog, guys at a bar, guys with girls," says Lysyj, who previously worked for Kraft Foods. “It very much reflects back to what the consumer wants to see, as opposed to stretching the consumer in a new direction. With Heineken being a relatively small brand — we have a 4 percent share in the category -- I think we’re perfectly positioned to do more upscale ad pieces."

Lysyj, who will speak at the 2013 ANA Brand Masters Conference April 17-19 in Palm Beach, FL., discusses Heineken’s latest marketing strategy, how it maximizes humor, the innovative Crack the Code campaign, and other topics.



Q. In what ways is Heineken breaking from traditional beer marketing and advertising?

A. We’re doing more upscale ad pieces because our beer drinkers, who are between the ages of 25 and 35, are at the forefront of the trends in digital. For example, when our customers are watching TV, 90 percent of them have another screen on, like a mobile device. So, while TV advertising is not a bad thing, it’s really the last bastion of one-way communication. We just decided to approach the whole category in a different way.

A 30-second spot is the primary way most of our competitors advertise. These spots have a pretty linear story line; they’re relatively simple and rely on sophomoric humor. Our spots are more like little mini-movies; there are many layers to them. Our research shows that if consumers see these spots just once, they will not catch everything that is going on. They’re designed that way so that consumers will want to see the spots again and again. From a media perspective, we start with a 90-second spot, then a 60-second, and then a 30-second. The idea is that the consumer will see the longer version online. That’s kind of our entree to engage with them.

And the results are pretty telling: Compared to other beer brands, Heineken has the highest number of Facebook fans globally -- at 11 million -- and the highest share of Twitter followers in the U.S., at 40 percent. Every time we run a spot online, we get millions of views. This is a big area for us. The beer category collectively spends about 2 percent on digital and social media, but we spend around 10 percent. It’s definitely where the consumer is going, and we’re trying to get there faster than other beer brands.

Q. Like many beer brands, Heineken continues to rely on humor in its advertising to drive engagement. How do you ensure maximum effect?

A. Beer is fun, so most of the things we do in our category are lighthearted. It’s not hard to use humor. We define the type of humor we use for our brands very clearly -- and we absolutely have to stay within the guardrails. On our “Most Interesting Man in the World” spots for Dos Equis, there has to be wit with every line -- for example: “Mosquitoes refuse to bite him purely out of respect.” The funny part of that line is the “out of respect.” We discount hundreds of lines because they’re just not witty enough. The humor has to match the brand. In Heineken’s case, it’s a bit more formulaic than maybe it appears, but it’s clearly defined by the brand.

Q. Why is Heineken’s relationship with the James Bond franchise the perfect match? How did you build on that relationship in the latest Bond movie, "Skyfall," and across media through your Crack the Case campaign?

A. James Bond is the ultimate man of the world. He’s the perfect representative for Heineken, particularly in the U.S., because he’s appealing to the American consumer. In "Skyfall," we wanted to have more involvement, but we had to make sure that James Bond had a more natural interaction with the brand. That’s why you see him having a beer at a moment when you would have a beer, as opposed to a martini. There was a lot of buzz before the movie was released because people were worried about the brand not being incorporated the right way. I think we did it right. You can’t force product placement; it has to be done in a natural way.

We used the Bond character for all it was worth in our integrated Crack the Case campaign. It worked all the way through the line, from the movie to the TV ad to retail. What I liked most about our TV spot was that Bond wasn’t the hero; he wasn’t the man of the world. That was a very conscious decision on our part. We also used this opportunity to really drive sales at retail. That was probably our biggest win. In the U.S., we had Bond graphics on our packaging, we gave away tickets inside cases of beer, we developed an on-premise mobile game, and more. It was a home run for us.

Q. From your perspective, what is one of the key media issues the industry needs to address?

A. Everybody talks about engaging the consumer -- everybody tries to get the consumer to take action. But I think we often talk to ourselves. There are different categories and different brands that have a different potential for engagement. I think we should view things through that lens. In other words, we need to get more refined with our media efforts. Otherwise, we’re just throwing a lot of stuff out there and wasting time and money. We know the Heineken brand is more about entertaining consumers than our Newcastle brand. Newcastle puts out a lot of bite-size content on its Facebook page that consumers can easily take and pass on. We’re told that an average brand has a 1.5 percent engagement level on Facebook, but Newcastle’s Facebook page has a 25 percent engagement level. The engagement is high because the content is so compelling and sharable. It’s a fun and funny campaign that works well with the intended audience.

Q. You once said that working with agencies is a “combination of art and science.” Please elaborate.

A. I remember why I said that because I was having a conversation the day before with one of our heads of creative at Wieden + Kennedy. We were saying it’s almost a miracle that great advertising ever gets out because clients are generally more left-brain-oriented. Clients are drivers and organizers. We move things forward; we’re rational. The creative side is all about letting things breathe and finding the golden nugget within bad ideas. The creative brief is the science, and the creative the art. Getting to a good brief is one of the hardest things to do. If I can start thinking of ideas coming out of a brief, then it’s probably a good one.

I have found that many creatives, particularly more junior people, just evaluate a brief at face value. They will look at three ideas and say, “Wrong, wrong, wrong -- go back.” But if you allow for a more organic conversation about some execution within an idea or some elements of the execution, there
actually may be a great idea that you can jointly get to. That’s where the art comes in, but it’s not easy.”

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