TV is still key to Heineken’s sponsorships but at a time when the way live sports are watched is changing, the brewer is redoubling efforts to convince more people to tune into Champions League matches and Formula One races it promotes.
Football and (as of earlier this month) motor racing are tentpole moments on the brand’s marketing calendar and yet after years of experience there’s a realisation internally that it can’t just rely on the sport to keep people watching live. Both events are hemorrhaging viewers for various reasons – the move to pay TV, weak competition, strange rules and in the case of Formula One less technological variation – which is a problem for a beer like Heineken that wants to be at the centre of memorable fan experiences at prestigious events.
Granted, there’s only so much a sponsor can do to get people watching the sport but by sharing as much as it can with rights holders like Uefa and the Formula One Group, Heineken believes it can play its part. For the Champions League, its efforts will be more pronounced this season given it has 10 years’ worth of experience to call on, whereas Formula One will be more of a slow-burn over the first and second seasons of its sponsorships.
“The globalness of sport is for us an attractive way of associating a premium brand like ourselves and in additional to that we see the power of being able to premiumise the sport as well,” said Anuraag Trikha, Heineken’s global brand communications director. “There’s a commonalty of interest for Uefa and us to try and use the footprint of Heineken and its fans to basically build its own presence and interest.”
Over the next few weeks just how it plans to exploit that “commonality” will become apparent but at the moment all the brewer will share is that its plan will pay more attention to how the way people watch live sport depends on where they are in the world. After all, the Champions League is watched globally but the context is different,” explained Trikha. In Vietnam, matches are shown in the early hours of the morning, while in New York it’s in the afternoon, meaning that upcoming activations will try to acknowledge that difference in time in order to encourage people to turn on the televisions.
Therefore, Heineken is “creating even more hyper-relevance” around a campaign that will be “more mobile-centric” than previous efforts and will go “beyond Twitter”. It launched the campaign last week with a cinematic ad shot by Hollywood director Guy Ritchie and starring Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Instagram will play a larger role for the brewer than it has done previously, while it is also keeping tabs on Chinese instant messaging service WeChat for future localisations of the campaign in Asia.
“I’m very keen that with Formula One and with the Champions League in Asia there could be an opportunity to build a premium sports based entertainment entity there with the Heineken brand,” he added.
Heineken has high hopes for motor racing even if it’s a sport that comes with risk. The brewer has been at pains to talk up how its digital nouse could help a sport that is wrestling with declining audiences on TV and trackside, issues that would usually deter sponsors. Much is already known about how the brewer is using the sport to fuel its responsible drinking marketing, whereas it’s how it will attempt to generate interest in the practice and qualifying sessions rather than just focusing on the races like other sponsors that will make up the other half of the sponsorship.
“The association and relevance that we have in social media is something that we want to bring to Formula One, which is something they liked because as a global beer brand we can get closer to our consumers in digital,” said Trikha.
“Our point of view on Formula One is that it’s more than just a two-hour race. We talk about being 72 hours of social connection and I think that’s going to play a big role when we start rolling out our digital campaign next year…We’re trying to create the entertainment that you need to experience 72 hours of Formula One to really believe that it’s the sport to follow.”
Consequently, the KPIs for Heineken’s debut season are very different to those that will judge whether its 11tth Champions League is a success. Saliency and showing fans that it’s going to add value to the sport instead of treat it as a badging exercise are two of the most prominent gauges the brand will use, while it will also be paying attention to how many people buy into its idea that the sport is more than just the two-hour race.
Underpinning, Heineken’s sponsorships will be data, which it admits it still has much work to do in order to properly master.
“We’re looking at first party, second part and third party as being the source of how we use data to better define our strategies,” said Trikha.
“It’s early days and we’re not advanced but what we are seeing is that when we associate ourselves to sports like the Champions League or Formula One we have a reason for consumers to share data so that we can use it in a way that gives some backing to them…
"We’ve seen it work for the Champions League campaign with Twitter and the same strategy will be applied to Formula One where we will actively encourage our consumers to join the conversation and they will allow us to access their data on their mobile, which we’ll then use to serve them content which only Heineken could provide like the behind the scenes posts. That’s going to be the basis of which we’ll use the data and us trying to create more first party data, which we own rather than depend on third parties as we do now.”