News & Views

Heineken / UEFA Champions League Sponsorship

by Contagious Team

Contagious recently took time out at the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg between Barcelona and Bayern Munich to speak with Heineken's global brand activation director, Hans Erik Tuijt

With the UEFA Champions League reaching its climax, so are eight months and 144 matches-worth of sponsorship activation for the tournament's key partners. Among those is international beer brand Heineken, now in its seventh consecutive season of involvement with the tournament. This year the Dutch brand has created a number of eye-catching executions, building on the learning and experience of previous years' activity - such as Heineken Star Player, the innovative dual-screen game featured in Contagious 27.

In April, as the cream of the crop reached the quarter finals, the latest installment of the Legends TV campaign, Road to the Final, was launched. Shot as a follow up to first two 'Open Your World' campaigns (The Entrance and The Date), Wieden and Kennedy, Amsterdam, told the story of a guy surviving on his wits to get to tournament's finale at Wembley in time for kick off, against all odds. His harrowing journey was cleverly recreated in Barcelona for members of the media by PR firm Edelman, London, via an immersive theatre experience prior to one of the semi-final matches.

On Facebook, where the brand has over 10 million fans, people have been playing a football and fingers-themed pinball game, emulating the star of the TV advert, to earn bragging rights against their peers.

Meanwhile, earlier in the year, Publicis, Italy helped create The Candidate, which saw one lucky person win an internship with the Heineken sponsorship and events team - but only after undergoing a highly unorthodox series of interviews, all filmed for the viewing public. The resulting video, featuring interviewees holding their would-be bosses' hands and saving a stranded office worker during a fire-alert, has received nearly five million views on YouTube and the role itself received over 1,700 applications. 

Finally, during the semi-finals, Dutch football legend Clarence Seedorf took to the brand's Twitter account to offer his take on the action in real-time and respond to questions set by fans.

Here's what Hans Erik Tuijt had to say about Heineken's sponsorship strategy and what the company has learned in recent years.

What's the overall strategy for Heineken's sponsorship of the Champions League?
First of all, it's important to remember why we do sponsorship: ultimately, it's a more efficient way to have a conversation with your consumers. It's perfect for a beer brand - the best conversations happen over the best beer. Intrinsically, I think beer brands should sponsor as it gives you talkability.

So we sponsor the things that people like to talk about; the James Bond films, football, rugby (The Heineken Cup is Europe's premier rugby tournament). Believe me though; if our fans liked synchronised swimming we would do that!

With our sponsorships, we do two things strategically: we create conversations, and we bring the sponsorships into OUR world.
So instead of sponsoring something and saying "we're so proud of it", we bring them into our world with the Heineken tone of voice. We put our strategy into these big icons.

With the new advert for the Champions League, Road to The Final, the briefing was that it needed to be aired across the whole world. We know that in the US for example, and other important markets, they're not necessarily big football markets, so it needed to work as a brand campaign, but with a Champions League theme. That's the new strategy in place. Create a conversation and put the brand point of view in so that people can say, 'hey, that's typically Heineken'. 

I hardly have discussions about logos. I want to have conversations about what we're actually doing. If you're a football fan and you're watching your team take a penalty, a bomb could go off and you wouldn't flinch.

How do you activate the sponsorship globally?
Think about Peru, Angola, Spain, UK - our brand is in different stages in these markets, so we activate in different ways.

We say to our marketers in different markets that either you're anchoring the brand (so you're small, there's not much premium beer, we've limited awareness and distribution), you're building (so there's more distribution, and awareness is above say ten per cent but below the thirties) or you're a 'Starface' (where we are the established premium brand).

You have objectives in different stages in each of these so we have different activation strategies within each market.
In an 'anchoring' market, such as Peru for example, it's a small beer market. So we run one or two trial promotions around the Champions League final which we then complement with ATL.
In the 'building' markets, engagement is the focus in these markets. The likelihood is that people have trialled us at some point, so the sponsorship gives us a reason to have more of a conversation with people.  Converting for us here becomes a lot easier through the sponsorship.

In our 'Starface' markets, the whole marketing mix comes in. Sometimes the challenge is to remind marketers that we're ultimately a beer brand, not a football brand.

Are global sponsorship opportunities like the Champions League limited?
Yes, so we love the Champions League. People often forget that Heineken has 1.5% of marketshare worldwide. We're small, the beer industry is actually small. In individual markets there are hundreds of local brands. We believe that with the Champions League, we're building the beer market. In other industries there's a few leaders: not with beer. Everyone has regional and local players to deal with. In other sponsor categories, there are just a few global players. We're fighting with 40,000 beer brands. We need to win everywhere as we have an ambition to get to three per cent market share.  

We also know that only 56% of football fans around the world know we're the sponsors of the Champions League, so we've more to do.

What has Heineken learned from its Champions League sponsorship in recent years?
My view is that we need to provide our view, our opinion, on things that happen as they happen. We need to have a position and point of view on the events that happen in a game that are watched by millions of people. When things are happening on the pitch, we need to be in that conversation or making it happen. What we say at Heineken is that, 'it's not that it happened... it's that it's done at that moment'. Sharing alone is boring, it's the conversation that comes with it ultimately that counts.

In theory, Star Player was perfect; but I think it was a lonely experience. We should have put it into pubs for example. The insight was right, that people tend to watch the games at home and on their own, but it still remained a lonely experience. 

In future, rather than creating our own things in isolation, such as mobile applications, we need to 'fish where the fish are', where the traffic already is, rather than expecting people to come to us.