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Heineken: The 150-year-old Gen Z

Heineken: The 150-year-old Gen Z

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When Gerard Adriaan Heineken came up with an idea to produce beer in 1873, little did he know that the brand would remain one of the top choices of beer across the world a whole 150 years later.

Undoubtedly, the marketing strategies adopted by the brand have worked in its favour, bringing it to its current position, where it has claimed the title of the world’s most valuable beer brand, according to BrandFinance.

In Malaysia, where consumption of alcohol is not as prominent as other non-Muslim majority countries, the brand has managed to penetrate the market successfully, creating campaigns that appeal to the average Malaysian consumer that enjoys the occasional beer or two.

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According to Willemijn Sneep, the marketing director at Heineken Malaysia, Heineken’s campaigns in Malaysia are focused on reflecting the brand’s ethos. She added that a key part of that is by shifting the focus of the campaigns from its legacy to its consumers instead. One of its recent campaigns that did so was its 150th anniversary campaign, which featured the different ways consumers enjoyed their lives with Heineken in the mix.

The cornerstone of the brand’s success, Sneep said, is steeped in Freddy Heineken’s take on the company’s ethos. Her take was:

"I don’t sell beer. I sell ‘gezelligheid’" (which is a Dutch term for ‘good times’).

Consumer experience is a predominant consideration, which is why it aims to create unique experiences for those who opt for Heineken. Further to the activations for the brand’s 150th anniversary campaign, the brand also sought out a partnership with fashion influencer Jane Chuck and her brand, Motherchuckers. It launched a limited-edition streetwear collection, inspired by the universal language of style and echoing Heineken’s signature colours. 

“A standout feature in this collection is the uniquely designed caps which are equipped with a built-in bottle opener. Not only does it seamlessly blend style with functionality, but wearing this cap allows wearers to spark conversations with others over a beer. This is just one of the many consumer experiences we felt was important to create,” said Sneep.

The Gen Z effect

As we have seen with other heritage brands such as Levi’s, appealing to Gen Z stands to be one of the most lucrative moves a brand can make. Sneep feels the same way for Heineken’s trajectory. To do so, Heineken’s has grown its commitment to spark connections which extend beyond a singular campaign.

“We recognise the evolving values of Gen Z, who prioritise inclusivity and sustainability over brand values such as prestige and heritage,” Sneep said, adding that inclusivity is a passion point for the brand. “We strive to create environments where everyone feels a sense of belonging. Our marketing reflects this ethos,” she said.

Sneep pointed to Heineken’s “The Ghosted Bar” campaign which starred Korean actor Park Hyung Sik that aims to inspire young people to “work responsibly” and to not let their friends down by working late and ‘ghosting’ them. “This campaign was created in an effort to raise awareness about the sensitive work-life balance issue and to promote inclusivity by encouraging young people to prioritise social connections and well-being over the culture of overworking,” she added.

The core of the campaign was born out of the understanding that Malaysian Gen Z are global citizens, a majority of whom follow international KOLs, and have aspirations to explore other cultures and countries. The aforementioned collaboration with Motherchuckers is part of Heineken’s attempt to blend global inspirations into local experiences to meet Gen Z’s global outlook.

Moreover, Sneep finds that Gen Zs are more mindful drinkers. Keeping that in mind, she found that it was important for the brand to continuously evolve while ensuring that the brand resonates with the audience’s approach to what they consider to be a “good time”.

As a beer brand that wants to stick in the minds of Gen Zs, Sneep said that it is very easy to just hop on any trendy topic of ride on the wave of what might be assumed as the next big thing. Therefore, other than going into platforms that resonate with Gen Zs, Sneep said that Heineken is very intentional about how it can play a role in enriching its consumer experience.

This, she explained, is done through capitalising off existing interests, providing fresh perspectives and witty twists which can help deepen Heineken's connection with Gen Zs, so they see it more than just a beer brand. “We also know that Generation Z is a very thoughtful and choiceful generation. They are able to sniff out brands that are disingenuous or brands that just don’t walk the talk,” she concluded.

The brand’s core value is sparking genuine connections over a beer, fostering moments of togetherness. We've championed this ethos for 150 years and remain committed to it.

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