Bullish On Digital, Heineken USA Reveals 2015 Ad Plans

Digital Jumps to 30% of Spending as Soccer Gets Big Push

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Niel Patrick Harris
Niel Patrick Harris

Heineken USA's 2015 marketing plans include a dash of Neil Patrick Harris and a whole lot of digital and soccer.

The importer will boost its marketing budget by 6% this year, including dedicating 30% of its spending to digital, up from 20% last year, executives told Ad Age. Plans include using programmatic for 10% of ad buys.

Mr. Harris, who debuted for Heineken Light last year, is coming back as the brand continues its new taste-focused positioning, Chief Marketing Officer Nuno Teles said in an interview previewing the importer's 2015 plans. Regular Heineken will make soccer a priority with its new MLS sponsorship. Also on tap: A new version of Dos Equis called Roja and a campaign for Tecate called "Born Bold" that targets Mexican Americans.

Heineken USA spent $150 million on measured media last year, according to Kantar Media.

The importer's confidence in digital was on display at its recent wholesalers meeting in New Orleans, according to Beer Business Daily. Typically, TV ads take center stage at the annual gatherings of beer distributors that most big beer marketers hold in the late winter. But Heineken's meeting this year was "perhaps the first major supplier meeting where the meeting focused much more heavily on digital marketing than TV/radio/outdoor," Beer Business Daily reported.

Asked by Ad Age if TV is still needed, Mr. Teles said: "I strongly believe that you probably don't necessarily need it." But he added that "a combination of different media channels is the best [solution]." Indeed, TV ads are planned for the marketer's four priority brands, which include Heineken, Dos Equis, Tecate and Strongbow.

But as an example of the effectiveness of digital, Mr. Teles pointed to the recent U.S. launch of a global brand called Desperados. The importer tested the tequila-flavored beer in several markets in the Southeast. In states where TV ads were used, consumer awareness hovered near zero. But when only digital was used, awarness was about 23%, he said. "That really tells you that if you want to reach out to millennials, you really need to use a media that is not necessarily TV," he said.

Here is a look at what the importer has planned for some of its key brands:

Heineken: The marketer's five-year sponsorship deal with Major League Soccer kicks off this year. Plans include web content and hosting the "Heineken House" at major MLS events. The goal of the sponsorship is to reach 90 million American consumers, with an emphasis on millennials and Hispanics.

Brand Heineken is also trying to leverage its sponsorship of the European-based UEFA Champions League with marketing aimed at U.S. residents. The brand's "#ChampionTheMatch" campaign plays off the hurdles that U.S. fans face when trying to watch the games that often occur during working hours. In one recent promotion, Heineken offered fans the chance to go to a UCL match in Europe. The catch was they had to bring their boss.

Heineken Light: Mr. Harris is back in a taste-focused campaign launched last year by Wieden & Kennedy. The approach is further evidence that mass-marketed beers are talking more about liquid credentials. Consumers are "not accepting anymore just the nice superficial joke," Mr. Teles said. "They want to know more about the brand."

Dos Equis Roja
Dos Equis Roja

Dos Equis: Not surprisingly, the Most Interesting Man in the World is back. One new ad tactic is called "lunar rising," a reference to full moons that provide light for summer parties. Also on the horizon is Dos Equis Roja. It is described as a "distinctive red lager crafted with Mexican malted barley and hops," according to a label filed with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Tecate: The debut campaign by new agency Saatchi & Saatchi, New York is called "Born Bold." Ads will make an emotional appeal and emphasize the brand's black eagle symbol. The target is so-called "bi-cultural" consumers who identify equally with the U.S. and Mexico.

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