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In a category where a lot of brands have stopped investing in ad campaigns to funnel their resources into distribution and promotional channels, marketing strategies for beer brands often feel a bit like trench warfare. Despite this, from a marketing standpoint, beer remains a category where image reigns supreme—even more so for major international brands like Heineken, which has a big sponsorship budget because of its association with soccer and, more recently, the F1. Heineken is an iconic brand that puts a lot of stock in image, and Coachella serves as a great sponsorship platform to showcase its innovative flair.
The partnership between Heineken and Coachella dates back to 2002, three years after the event was created. The beer brand often looked to the festival as an opportunity to try innovative new activations, and it was one of the first brands to consider the audience experience in its concept development.
Though Coachella is an annual event, Heineken stretches its promotional window to last almost six months, thanks to the power of social media. The brand also takes advantage of downtime moments during the festival to create a novel and innovative value-added experience. The on-site activations aren’t simply isolated tactics. They represent Heineken’s long-term engagement in the festival—a plus for both the promoter and the public.
In 2013, as the official and exclusive partner in the beer category, Heineken was responsible for serving more than 80,000 festivalgoers every day. The company had branded tents that featured world-class DJs. High-definition videos were projected on the ceiling, and attendees could control them using iPads provided by the brand.
Heineken also provided a solution to keep beer from getting warm: cold storage fridges that festivalgoers could open by scanning their fingerprints. At any point in time, they could access their beer at the perfect temperature. Heineken also had an express line reserved for people who took advantage of the cold storage so that they could enter the tents quicker.
In 2014, Heineken continued to push the boundaries by serving beers infused with lemon grass, mint and chilli pepper in its exclusive World Fusion Bar. The company had already begun marketing these beer flavours in other countries but this was a first on American soil—a way for the brand to test the products’ appeal with influential consumers.
In 2015, the brand continued to innovate when it created its own Shapchat account under the user name HeinekenSnapWho, a first for any beer brand. Attendees could follow the account and get information and clues about upcoming guest DJs and artists who would be performing in the Heineken space (i.e. a piano was the clue for Billy Joel). When attendees guessed correctly, they got more exclusive info on the guest artist’s agenda for the festival. This activation was inspired by the following insight: young beer drinkers are constantly on their phones, especially at Coachella, where they are sharing their experience live and consuming content that has a direct tie-in with their experience on site. As a platform, Snapchat has the advantage of tapping into the fear of missing out (FOMO) and is ideal for sharing the kind of surprising content that Heineken was looking to create.
So why is Heineken diversifying its portfolio with cultural events when people generally associate the brand with flagship sports properties? In fact, outside of sports, Heineken already has a strong presence in the music scene. A university study recently compared the effectiveness of sports sponsorships vs. cultural sponsorships and didn’t find any significant differences between the two. The characteristics of the event—audience profile, awareness, size—influence the results more than the nature of the event itself. With that in mind, we know that people at music events consume a lot of beer. The events are very social and there’s an opportunity for the brand to generate a lot of content. Even if sponsorship spending at sporting events is significantly higher than at arts and culture events, the latter presents brands with a number of interesting opportunities.
Coachella attracts a lot of important young influencers who are active on social media and who generate a lot of buzz for both the event and the brands that are associated with it. That’s why Heineken’s activations target consumers looking to create their own experiences, try new things and be an integral part of the event.
“Creating experiences” has become a rallying call in a lot of agencies these days. A lot of brands try to do it, but some, like Heineken, set the bar higher and become the market reference. They bring added value to the experience, and the quality of the execution is always very high. That’s important: you can’t simply satisfy expectations if you want to move the needle for your brand. You have to know how to impress people. The surprise factor that Heineken brings to Coachella year after year always ties in seamlessly with the event, to the delight of attendees and ad people alike.
That element of surprise is key. Even with successful activations, wear-out can set in, and given the large number of festivalgoers that come back every year, reusing the same concept—even if it’s a winner—won’t have people cheering for an encore.
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