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Cannes 2013: From a storyteller to a story whisperer

By , Seminars, Cannes | In Advertising | June 22, 2013
Heineken's CEO Jean-Francois van Boxmeer and Alexis Nasard, chief marketing officer and president, Western Europe, in a discussion with Maurice Levy, chairman, CEO, Publicis Groupe, spoke about the beer brand's 140-year-old legacy.

At a time when some of the old-timer brands are finding it hard to adapt and stay afloat in the globalised, digitally connected world, 140-year-old beer brand Heineken has not only managed to do well but also keep itself innovatively relevant. And, the best proof of this was the recent James Bond movie Skyfall, where Bond asked for Heineken instead of Vodka Martini "shaken, not stirred".

Jean-Francois van Boxmeer, Maurice Levy and Alexis Nasard

Another feather in the beer brand's cap was its 'Heineken's Legendry Journey: Justifying a Premium the World Over' campaign, created by Wieden+Kennedy, Amsterdam, that won the Grand Prix, besides picking six more Lions in the Creative Effectiveness category in Cannes this year.

So, what is the secret behind keeping a nearly one-and-half-century family-owned brand (the brand was set up in 1864) alive and relevant? The answer to this might lie in the fact that while brand Heineken was the original product of the company and largely defines it, it occupies merely 16-17 per cent share in the entire product portfolio. The rest of the space is taken over by local alcohol brands like Tiger.

In a conversation with Publicis Groupe chairman and CEO Maurice Levy, Heineken's CEO Jean-Francois van Boxmeer said that in order to remain in the No. 1 or No. 2 position in various markets, as that was the only way it could recover the capital, Heineken acquired beer companies that had a leading beer brand in the respective country. The company, therefore, cleverly built on the acquired brands, thus paving the way to becoming a truly local and global brand.

Boxmeer highlighted the fact that much before globalisation hit the brands, Heineken was already present in many countries. The brand first imported its beer to Paris, France, way back in the 19th century and entered Africa and America at the start of the 20th century. Interestingly, the company received the sanction to sell its beer in Myanmar, too (which has, incidentally, opened its doors to Coca-Cola recently).

Speaking about expanding its presence through local brands, Boxmeer elaborated on Tiger beer, which originated from Singapore but has a significant presence in Southeast Asia. He was optimistic that with the beer's sales exploding in the last five years, Heineken was exploring to introduce Tiger to new territories and, perhaps, make it into a global brand.

However, being in a product category, which if consumed in a high dosage could lead to substance abuse, Boxmeer said that they always try to balance their communication. While on one hand the industry positioned its products as one that would make the consumer look 'cool', especially the young adults, Boxmeer also realised the need to communicate that it was uncool to resort to alcohol abuse.

While the company has carried out various ad campaigns revolving around the topics of alcohol abuse, drinking and driving and so on, Boxmeer said what he wanted from the creative people was to help the brand communicate these issues in a creative way, and at the same time, ensure that the brands did not suffer.

However, gaining much audience popularity was Alexis Nasard, chief marketing officer and president, Western Europe, Heineken, who said that marketing decisions could not be taken only on the basis of research and quantitative analysis. Agreeing with him, Boxmeer said that there was nothing more lethal than a marketing team that did this and expected the advertising agency's creative team to come out with a communication based on it. He felt it was important that creative teams within an organisation understood the brand ethos and values, and then worked with the agency's creative team.

Being in a category that has 80 per cent of the communication targeted at an emotional level, it was essential that the agencies avoided story-telling and adopted story whispering, where consumers are allowed to imagine more out of what the brand had to say.

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