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    Why Heineken is ramping up investment in consumer experiences

    As the world continues to reopen and the demand for in-person experiences rises, Heineken is making a concerted effort to boost awareness and sales by integrating its product into popular cultural happenings, including sporting events and music festivals, in order to reinforce its premium positioning and build on its status as the third-most popular imported beer in the United States.

    “[Imported has] always been, in the U.S., short-hand for ‘premiumness’ to an extent,” said Jonnie Cahill, CMO of Heineken USA. “It’s one of the few markets in the world where import or domestic is in fact, a choice that’s offered. You see it on menus, you see it in conversations, you get asked that question by bartenders, which doesn’t really happen anywhere else.”

    Heineken’s focus on live events and premiumness comes as the imported beer market takes on renewed buoyancy in America. Heineken saw a 0.2% sales bump between 2020 and 2021, pulling in over $916 million, according to a report by Beverage Industry. Despite the strong performance, Heineken lags behind Anheuser-Busch InBev owned heavyweights Modelo and Corona, which did $3.3 billion and 2.8 billion in sales in 2021 respectively. For Modelo, that performance marked a 14% increase from the prior year. Heineken’s sister brand Dos Equis XX did $464 million in sales, unseating AB InBev owned Stella Artois for fourth place.

    In a conversation with Marketing Dive, Cahill, who has served as Heineken USA’s CMO since 2018, discusses the return of in person events, capitalizing on the brand’s imported status and how the marketer balances real-life events with virtual ones.

    This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

    MARKETING DIVE: How is Heineken adapting to a world looking to move past the pandemic?

    JONNIE CAHILL: We are delighted that in person is back. Of course, there are restrictions and things are a little bit different than they used to be. But those platforms for us… things like Champions League, Major League Soccer and Coachella are opportunities for us to demonstrate premiumness. And premiumness is something you can say. It’s something you can show, but it’s very important that premiumness is something that you do.

    And so, the events that we associate with a brand like Heineken confirm the brand positioning. We have a very simple test: does it feel right for the brand? And if you said to people again, ‘who do you think the beer brand would be at Coachella?’ They understand why we’re there. Because the values are quite similar. The environment is very premium, it’s quite cool. If you asked what’s the beer brand of NASCAR, they wouldn’t think it would be us, for the very converse reason. And that’s okay.

    We are using those touch points and those physical interactions when people are having fun to really reinforce positioning and remind them of the premium nature of, in fact, all of our brands and really bring it to life. It’s a disproportionately important marketing tactic when you’re in premium. And you would see that if it’s us or BMW, these are all brands that do things as well as say things. And so, post-pandemic, we’re glad it’s back. It has us busy again, and there’s a lot of moving parts. We have some new partnerships like Formula 1, but it’s really exciting to be back out there.

    Heineken is primarily a European brand. How has the company capitalized on that?

    CAHILL: I think what we’re layering on now is a nice combination of globally iconic events and domestically relevant events that are also quite iconic. So, if you look at soccer, for example, not only do we partner with Los Angeles FC or NYCFC in Major League Soccer, we also are the global partner of the UEFA Champions League, which is the very iconic, very elite end of the sport and these are local passion points. You have Formula 1, a very iconic global property, fastest growing viewership driven by things like Netflix and “Drive to Survive,” their show, which has driven fandom and Formula 1 through the roof. And so that might be global and iconic.

    But we also show up in Miami, we show up in Austin, we’re going to show up in Las Vegas for the Formula 1 Grand Prix race. We have always stood for premium positioning. We’re very fortunate we have an iconic packaging format in Heineken, that green bottle is like the Coca-Cola bottle, right? It’s just associated with us. We are bringing together the global, magnetic premium events and activating them on the ground in the US, but in a very Heineken way. So the standard doesn’t change. It’s iconic. It’s fabulous. It’s magnetic. It’s fun.

    How is Heineken leveraging U.S. events globally?

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