How Heineken turbocharged its image during COVID-19

A revolutionary approach to advertising by Heineken during the COVID-19 pandemic has been lauded once again at the prestigious Cannes Lions 2022.

Heineken was awarded a Gold Lion for its “The Night is Young” campaign, which celebrated being able to get out and safely socialise once more following the easing of lockdowns in many countries and the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Ali Ali, the ad featured a night out on the town with a twist. Focused on a group of people going out to the club together and enjoying a social life, the film revealed that they were all in fact seniors – all vaccinated, able to travel and keen to restart the party.

The campaign was produced by Good People and shot under strict regulations respecting COVID-19 restrictions in Athens, Greece, with Heineken and Publicis Italy/ Le Pub providing remote input through video conferencing.

The accolade followed Heineken’s innovative Shutters initiative, created by Publicis Italy, winning a Grand Prix and a Silver Lion in the Outdoor Lions category at the Cannes Lions 2021.

During the lockdown period, 60% of bars were threatened with permanent closure and globally shutters came down. Heineken had the solution. it used shutters of the most famous and loved bars around the world. Shutter Ads meant Heineken could stretch its OOH budget and earn significant PR attention for both itself and the bars. Amstel and Cruzcampo – other Heineken owned brands, joined the initiative to support bars and even others such as Guinness and Paulaner adopted the idea, united for the love of bars as social and safe-havens.

What started out as a helpful initiative, became a new, sustainable platform in the time and space it was needed most, with more bars joining every week. From Buenos Aires to Barcelona, from Rosario to Berlin, more than 5000 bars benefitted from over 7.5 million Euros paid directly to them to create Shutter Ads and 100% of the venues that took part in the initiative reopened after the lockdowns were over.

‘The Green Triangle” of consumer engagement

Heineken attributes its marketing success during COVID-19 to what it calls ‘The Green Triangle’ – category, generation and zeitgeist.

Heineken global head Bram Westenbrink and Publicis Worldwide global creative director Bruno Bertelli delved into the strategy during a session at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2022.

“The pandemic had a huge impact on our category as consumers could not go out anymore and socialise,” Westenbrink said.

“Besides that, a lot of bars had to shut down. During the pandemic, we acted on all the three points of this triangle to support the community.

Bertelli said the idea was to make a difference in people’s lives. He explained that Heineken spends about 10% of the entire global budget on outdoor (OOH), so the idea was to use that budget to support bars and use their shutters as outdoor advertising space.

“We started in South America and Argentina and then rolled it out in other markets. It became a global campaign,” he said.

More than 5000 bars around the world turned into a new sustainable media buying platform resulting in 40% more media value than the traditional OOH. Furthermore, about € 7.5 million went directly to bars through the initiative.

Beyond this success, the initiative demonstrated the impact that innovative ways of working with sales can have. Shutters gained 40% more media value than traditional OOH routes. Plus, it prompted other Heineken® brands – and even competitors – to join in the effort to support on-trade outlets.

Most importantly, 100% of the bars involved in the Shutters initiative have now re-opened.

“We are incredibly proud to have won a Grand Prix and a Silver Lion at the Cannes Lions for this creative and meaningful response to the unprecedented challenges our local on-trade partners have faced during the pandemic,” Westenbrink said.

“The results we have achieved with the Shutters initiative speak for themselves. Bars are one of our biggest partners, so we are delighted to have found a way to support them – even when they were forced to close their shutters. It demonstrates the positive impact that innovation can have on the community and shows how we all have a role to play in keeping our bars open.”

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