Heineken was recently awarded the title of “Creative Marketer of the Year” at Cannes. The CEO of the festival, Phil Thomas, said in a press release, “The brewer lives and breathes creativity throughout its organization and has a superb framework that allows its marketing teams the freedom to experiment while retaining the core essence of their many brands.”
And experiment it did. Throughout 2014, Heineken released a slew of creative marketing campaigns into the advertising world. Yet all of them had the same goal—to differentiate Heineken from the rest of the beer market.
What Heineken Did
“If you look at the category, there is a large proportion of work that really depicts beer drinkers as a bunch of thoughtless idiots,” said Eric Quennoy, creative director at Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam. “So from the outset, we were very determined to portray beer drinkers in a positive light. We made a strategic decision to elevate the brand by elevating the drinker.”
Heineken was specifically targeted by Cannes because of its five-part campaign “Cities of the World.” The ads show different types of men navigating urban environments. Notably, they are all a far cry from your average Joe. Instead, they’re as cool and put together as James Bond. “The City” is one the campaign’s most popular ads, and it’s easy to see why: The spot is cinematic, entertaining, and happens to have some sexy women wielding knives.
Heineken furthered the adventures of its charming mystery man by placing him on a cruise ship. The catch? This time, the character slowly morphs from person to person. Rather than casting one actor, Wieden+Kennedy made the smart decision to use 20. You’ll need to watch the ad a couple of times to catch the changes:
If you wish you could see the casting sessions for all of those handsome men, you’re in luck. Heineken posted all of them on YouTube. Unsurprisingly, they’re absolutely hilarious. Here’s my favorite:
Part of the genius of this campaign is that no one is completely sure whether these auditions are fake or not. Either way, they make for fantastic marketing.
According to Thomas, Heineken “represents what brands are really looking for—creativity that amplifies their message and increases the power of what they create.” A perfect example of this kind of marketing is Heineken’s “15 Second Premiere” contest. In short, the brewer crowd-sourced a movie idea via Twitter. The winner would be made into a 15-second film. After hundreds of submissions, the best tweet was clear:
Behold, evil Abe Lincoln:
Over-the-top credits aside, this idea is still glorious.
How to Become the Next Heineken
Heineken is such a successful marketer because the company is willing to try new things and interact with its consumers. “They take small ideas and experiment with them,” Thomas said. “Of course, that doesn’t have to be expensive.” While your company might not have the budget to make a film about Robot Abe Lincoln, you can still engage with your clients via social media. Consumers appreciate original ideas, whether they’re on Vine or Instagram.
I asked Eric Quennoy about Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam’s formula for creating such amazing campaigns. “It was nothing more than a lot of hard work,” he said. “That means countless rounds of presentations and writing hundreds of scripts. You have to go through a long and arduous process in order to get to the good stuff.”
This is advice that all companies looking to improve their marketing should follow. After all, Heineken’s gross revenue for the first half of this year was up 4.6 percent. And the brewer has won 41 Lions at Cannes, including the 2013 Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness. In order to emulate that success, companies simply need to up their creative game. Of course, this also means letting agencies do what they do best—coming up with original ideas. “So many clients try and interfere too much,” Thomas said. In other words, give your creatives some breathing room.
Quennoy agreed. While a variety of elements are needed to create an award-winning campaign with an agency, one remains constant: “A very brave client who is ready and willing to hold hands with you as you jump off the cliff together.”