From its humble beginnings in a small brewery in the heart of Amsterdam, to the world’s third-largest beer brewer with breweries in some 70 countries around the world, Heineken’s 140-year history has been anything but dull. But what has been the secret to this phenomenal success?
Innovation and ambition have been central to the Heineken brand ever since Gerard Adriaan Heineken first acquired a small brewery in the heart of Amsterdam some 140 years ago. Breaking with convention and adopting the Bavarian method of bottom fermentation rather than the traditional top fermentation, a fledgling Heineken started to produce a clearer, purer beer than the Amsterdam crowd was accustomed to, soon picking up a reputation for quality along with the epithet ‘Gentleman’s Beer’.When Hartog Elion, a student of Louis Pasteur (the French chemist and microbiologist who discovered the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurisation), developed the A-yeast strain in 1886 it became the basis for Heineken beer, and still is to this day. Gerard Heineken soon installed Elion as laboratory director and the brewer became the first in the world with a quality-controlled laboratory.This progressivist attitude soon heralded an age of innovation at Heineken, but the forward thinking wasn’t confined to the laboratory as the company took its first steps towards becoming a global brand.From an aeroplane writing a Heineken ad in the sky above the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics to significant international expansion during the first major global economic depression, the brewer proved decisive and opportunistic, and when prohibition ended in 1933 Heineken became the first foreign beer to land on US soil.It was in 1954 though, when Gerard Heineken’s grandson Alfred (Freddy) Heineken acquired the majority of shares in the company, that true modernisation began, and with an ardent belief in brands and marketing, Freddy Heineken set about proving his conviction that ‘beer can travel’ – the beginnings of a truly effective global marketing strategy for the brand.Freddy Heineken once said, “Had I not been a brewer, I would have become an advertising man,” and it was his ideas and vision, forged during a two year stint in New York where he was impressed by the advertising on Madison Avenue, which proved the catalyst for modern day Heineken marketing. His striking green packaging and imaginative slogans such as ‘Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach’ were responsible for building Heineken into a truly global brand.Freddy was also behind the ‘Heerlijk Helder Heineken’ (roughly translated as ‘delicious, clear Heineken’) tagline which endured until the 1990s, and it was he who on the first day of 1968 gave Dutch TV viewers their first ever beer commercial.The TV ad coincided with the start of an aggressive expansion plan by the brand, with Heineken first acquiring the Amstel Brewery, then Brau-Beteiligungs A.G., and more recently Scottish & Newcastle, FEMSA Cerveza and APB, significantly extending its leadership in Europe and increasing its exposure to growth markets.Today, Heineken is available in almost every country on the planet and is the world’s most valuable international premium beer brand. And while the beer itself remains true to its traditional recipe, its marketing and the design of the brand have been anything but traditional, leading the way in creativity in the beer sector.The last few years have seen the company invest some €2bn a year in global marketing, with the ‘Open Your World’ tagline, introduced in 2011, rolling out across all marketing executions and conveying the brand’s worldly, open-minded and confident personality. It also has a strong and engaging digital presence, partnering with Google/YouTube and Facebook to ignite conversations online, with its Facebook page the largest for any beer brand (11m fans), while its sports, film and music sponsorship strategy sees it link up with events such as the UEFA Champions League, international music festivals such as Sensation, and, of course, James Bond, who the brand famously convinced to change his drink.Meanwhile, its newest offering ‘Dropped’ – a social experiment where travellers are invited to play Departure Roulette and to trade their airline tickets for a new destination assigned at random – ticks all the right boxes when it comes to provoking conversation and certainly signals that the brand is intent on remaining exciting and relevant, and globally focused. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess, but one thing that’s for sure is it will continue to develop impactful and memorable global campaigns.And the beer brand’s motto ‘Born in Amsterdam, raised by the world,’ has never been more apt.We asked some of Amsterdam's top creatives for their thoughts on Heineken's advertising. Here they share with us their favourite ads.Mark Chalmers, executive creative director, DDB & Tribal Amsterdam
“Heineken Ignite is incredible; it’s not simply an advertising campaign, it’s product innovation as well as a communication platform. Ignite connects people to each other and to the brand itself. Acting like a start-up, DDB & Tribal Amsterdam took the idea from brief to working prototype in just 10 weeks. And what makes Ignite even more exciting is that, rather than just providing one talked-about brand moment, it is something that will continue to evolve and transform.”Maarten Boon, creative director and partner, Minivegas
“The coolest Heineken campaign I’ve seen lately was its interactive bar for the nightclub of the future. The concept was honed by a collective of young designers from all over the world from a variety of backgrounds such as fashion, graphic, motion, interiors and product design, with Minivegas acting as coach, stewarding the project throughout every stage of the creative process. What was particularly ground-breaking about it, for me, was that it combined a good looking piece of work – in this case a real-time 3D animated, touch activated bar – with globally crowd-sourced design and a simple, really cool idea.”Mark Bernath, executive creative director, Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam
“The complete narcissist in me would opt for ‘The Entrance’ since it shifted the focus from the beer to the drinker was, in a way, a rebirth for the brand. But it came on the heels of tons of great work, and a lot of that work was actually all about the beer. It firmly established Heineken as premium. In the end, though, I throw a vote in for ‘Superheroes’ where the newest member to a league of X-Men type bad asses shows them all up by turning his shoe into a Heineken. He even gets propositioned by one half of the ambiguously gay duo to boot. Pretty nice.”Victor Knaap, CEO, MediaMonks
"The first time that 007 swapped his shaken vodka martini for a Heineken was boldly accompanied by the first ever digital global blockbuster. At MediaMonks, we shared in a collective desire with Heineken and Wieden + Kennedy to contribute something new to the Bond-world narrative, not just namedrop. Therefore, the Crack the Case experience – which extended the stunning TV commercial to digital – cleverly continued along the campaign’s same storyline: employing an action-packed, exhilarating interactive film with Bond girl class, secret agent authenticity and a Heineken twist. A seamless celebration of the happy marriage between the international beer brewing brand and Britain’s best spy."