Gianluca Di Tondo
Gianluca Di Tondo

In June this year, on the occasion of the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Heineken announced a global sponsorship deal with Formula One.

It’s not the first time a big global alcohol brand does a sponsorship in F1. Johnnie Walker and Fosters were there before. But Heineken intends to be a unique sponsor. Gianluca Di Tondo, Senior Director Global Heineken Brand, explained to AdAsia why, among other things, it is a logical step for Heineken to sponsor F1.


Heineken has been around for more than a century. The story started when Gerard Heineken discovered a passion for beer brewing and started the Heineken brand in Amsterdam. 4 generations later Heineken is still a family owned business with a global presence in more than 192 countries. The company has remained under tight family control. The late Freddy Heineken, CEO in the seventies and eighties, was personally involved in the branding and advertising activities and is personally responsible for the tilted or ‘laughing’ e in the current Heineken logo.

Gianluca maintains this tight control over the brand and explains how he does this.

“We follow what is known as a ‘glocal’ approach. We develop the global topics at a global level and then spread it across the regions and the countries. They work with their internal resources and agencies to localise the content. This way we avoid mistakes in translations or stepping the lines culturally. Beer is a local product that is consumed in many different ways, depending on e.g. cultural habits and local regulations. In Indonesia, one of the so called dark markets, you are not allowed to show the product and in a lot of countries you have to add a line about responsible consumption of alcohol.

But from a central point I keep a tight control over the brand assets. For instance, each and every online video has to be approved by me personally. I have to grant up to one hundred approvals per month. To facilitate this, we have a customised brand asset management system in place.”


The strategy
Heineken is known for its quirky commercials with a feel-good factor. Over the past ten years they have moved their focus from a traditional ATL and BTL approach to a strategy that focuses strongly on social media leverage.

“Social media is now more important in FMCG than ever before in both emerging and developed markets. We cannot rely exclusively anymore on paid media broadcasting in the form of TVCs. As a result, we have seen our spending in digital media increasing year-on-year. Of course we need to closely monitor the performance and the actual content, specifically on social media. For social monitoring we use the Expion platform.”


Formula 1
What did it take for Heineken to sponsor the Formula 1?
“The decision to sponsor Formula 1 was taken a few years ago. But it took time to work out the actual deal. Heineken is a demanding brand when it comes to sponsorships. We want more than just our logos on stuff. We want things like interaction and participation of the drivers in promotional activities. At the launch of our sponsorship in Monza we had a team of drivers playing a soccer game against FIFA league players in the pit lane.

“Formula 1 is a good fit for Heineken as a brand. It has a strong global reach, more even than soccer or rugby. Personally I am a big fan of Formula 1, although that changed the day Ayrton Senna died. With his death something died in me as well. I never totally lost interest and I am very happy that today I now am also professionally involved. Formula 1 remains a fascinating sport, specifically from a strategy point of view.”

But drinking and driving normally don’t go together well?
“Heineken has had a drink responsibly strategy for 15 years already. We will always promote beer as something you drink in the right place for the right reason. It took a lot of debate internally but in the end, we managed to have the ‘When you drive never drink’ campaign approved. When you go to Youtube and check out the commercials with Jacky Stewart, an iconic ex-F1 driver, you will notice that we really promote to not drink and drive. Even our logo in the end features the product and not the icon of a beer bottle.”

This year Heineken stepped in half-way the Formula One season. So what can we expect next year?
“We will have three titled sponsorships, i.e. 3 races that will carry the Heineken brand name. In addition, we will have 6 races where we will be very visible. The deal runs till 2022 and might be extended, based on the results. As I said, we don’t do short sponsorships.

“For instance, we sponsor the James Bond franchise. This has already been running for 15 years and likely to continue for a while more. We think that Formula One is under utilised and we see a lot of opportunity to profile ourselves. The new F1 owner [the sports just got sold by private equity firm CVC to media conglomerate Liberty Media – ed.] is also determined to bring about change, to counter the declining attention worldwide. The good part about F1 is that these are not just events. Specifically in cities like Monaco and Singapore races transform the city for days. We want to use that momentum and play with it. You will see next year how we will do this.”

Will we ever see F1 drivers drink beer instead of champagne at the end of a race?
“That is very unlikely. In fact, the champagne ceremony is such a classic part of the ceremony I cannot even imagine what that would look like.” (We at AdAsia can. It would look like an Octoberfest with pit girls and race suits instead of Dirndls and Lederhosen – ed.)


New Technology
Heineken has a reputation of being very adventurous when trying out new media and technology. What can we expect?
“We are definitely exploring Virtual Reality, although we are not yet convinced that it is suitable for our advertising and marketing. Beer delivery by drones is another experiment but beer is about scale and we don’t think that drone delivery can be used at scale.

“We are experimenting with beacons in retail, and a loyalty card application has just been released in the Netherlands. We are also exploring the area of proximity marketing. We have opened a Centre of Excellence for Data which will collect and analyse all our data on a global level. The data management is done at a local level and we create e.g. local personas using that data.

“A great source of data is the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam. Visitors come literally from all corners of the world and this allows us to test concepts and ideas on targeted groups from certain markets or countries. We use this also to target and attract specific visitor groups. Since the Heineken Experience has a limited capacity and is continuously sold out, we want to make sure we don’t get just any visitors, but the type of visitors that add value to us as a brand.”

At the time of the interview we asked if we could expect a Heineken Light or Zero.

Early December 2016 Heineken announced that it would start selling a Heineken with zero percent alcohol beer under the name Heineken 0.0. This is the first time Heineken will sell a zero percent alcohol beer under its own brand name. It previously went into the market with a 0.5% alcohol beer under the Buckler brand, which in the US is known as the beer of choice of Messrs Obama and Biden.

For 0.0, according to the press release it has taken a long time to develop a recipe that would be close to the classic Heineken beer. Heineken are now confident that taste-wise they have reached this point.

This may be perfect timing with the 2017 season being the first full year of F1 sponsorship, where Heineken will continue the ‘When you drive, never drink’ campaign.

Editor: Matthieu Vermeulen


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