Cannes Lions

How Cannes Marketer of the Year Heineken Climbs Creative 'Ladder'

Brewer Uses Rigorous Creativity Scoring System to Rank All Ads

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Heineken's 'Odyssey'
Heineken's 'Odyssey'

How ambitious is the marketing department at Heineken? Even The Most Interesting Man in the World is not considered a perfect 10.

The campaign put Dos Equis on the map when it launched in 2007 and is still cheered as a breakthrough effort in the beer category. But on the brewer's internal creativity scoring system, it is considered an eight or a nine, said Soren Hagh, executive director for global marketing at Heineken.

The rigorous system, internally called the "ladder," has helped the brewer scale creative heights, culminating with the 2015 Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year award. Heineken "lives and breathes creativity throughout its organization, and has a superb framework that allows its marketing teams the freedom to experiment while retaining the core essence of their many brands," Philip Thomas, CEO of Lions Festivals, said when Heineken was announced as the recipient in a statement issued late last year.

The organization cited the ongoing global campaign for brand Heineken called "Legends," which earned the 2013 Creative Effectiveness Grand Prix and is by Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam. Ads feature sophisticated leading men navigating urban environments with style. In the past three years, six Heineken-owned brands have won 41 Lions across seven countries.

The secret to Heineken's creative success is a mandatory internal training program meant to get its 1,500 marketing professionals across 70 countries speaking the same language. The program, called Global Commerce University, was cited in the Marketer of the Year announcement. The program includes master classes hosted at the brewer's Amsterdam headquarters, as well as workshops in local markets.

The "ladder" system is meant to institutionalize creativity, Mr. Hagh said. Campaigns are run through reviews by internal marketing leaders as well as agency creative directors, including people who are not directly involved in the campaign. A score of one to 10 is assigned to each campaign.

"Anything below a five is a massive no-no," Mr. Hagh said. A one, for instance, is considered to be "destructive" to the brand, while a four is anything perceived to be a cliché, like a beer ad that includes a bunch of beautiful people drinking in the sun, Mr. Hagh said. "It is advertising that is absolutely nothing but wallpaper," confirming what consumers already know, he said. Heineken shoots for a "seven-plus," he said, which translates into "talkability."

"We believe very passionately that we live in a world that becomes more and more about consumers talking to each other," he said. "And unless we deliver talkability with our core brands, we are not going to win long-term."

The Marketer of the Year award comes as Heineken changes its operating structure, including combining the roles of global CMO and chief sales officer into one position called chief commercial officer. Global Chief Marketing Officer Alexis Nasard, who was quoted in the Cannes announcement, is leaving the company. Heineken is also reducing its global operating regions to four from five.

"What we realized was there were parts of our structure that were just slowing us down," Mr. Hagh said.

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