AmsterJam Was a Brand Happening Interlaced With Music Acts

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The deal: Heineken USA spends 14 months planning an all-day music and arts festival, aiming to further its music strategy and connect with its prime target of men ages 21-34.

The result: On Aug. 20, AmsterJam, a day of live cross-genre mash-ups featuring artists such as Snoop Dogg, 311, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wyclef Jean and Garbage, and emceed by legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins, drew a capacity crowd of 30,500 people to Randalls Island, N.Y.

From the beginning, Heineken executives knew they could’ve just written a check to sponsor an existing music tour or latched
AmsterJam is the latest manifestation of Heineken's turn toward music-centric marketing strategies.

onto an artist about to hit the road. By doing so, they could’ve focused their energy on such tasks as approving logos and placement of their brand images, with little or none of the headaches associated with creating an event from scratch.

Music-centric strategy

A few years ago, the marketer launched a music-centric strategy that involves ongoing sponsorships of high-profile events like the Grammy Awards, the Coachella Valley Music Festival near Los Angeles and the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas.

But that’s not what executives had in mind. Heineken wanted to go further and build a branded experience in which the Dutch beer brand was involved in every detail.

“We wanted something that we had complete ownership of,” said Mike McCann, Heineken’s senior brand manager. “Plus, there’s nothing currently out there that could realize the vision we had.”

Marketers are increasingly looking for alternative ways to communicate with potential customers, and music is a strong emotional driver, said Maurice Bernstein, CEO of New York-based music marketing company Giant Step.

At the same time, brands need to conceive and execute well, Mr. Bernstein said, and sometimes creating an event has more impact than piggybacking onto a tour.

“Anyone can look at the Billboard charts and pick an artist to sponsor, and consumers know that,” he said. “They want to see that a brand is putting something tangible into the equation.”

Woodstock producer

For AmsterJam, Heineken partnered with IMG Live and concert promoter Michael Lang, who produced the original Woodstock, to put together an 11-hour event on Aug. 20, centered on inventive pairings of musicians who would create original mixes on the spot. The mixes, known as mash-ups, have gone from club staples to mainstream radio play in the past few years.

Mr. Lang suggested having Bootsy Collins, protégé of George Clinton and the Parliament/Funkadelic collectives, as the musical concierge for the day. As it turned out, Mr. Collins’ close relationships with artists like Snoop Dogg helped set the eclectic lineup that ranged from shock rapper Peaches and raggaeton star Hector El Bambino to power-pop band Garbage and funk rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Reviewers were especially enamored of the four-song pairing of Garbage and Peaches.

The New York Daily News reported, “As the Karen Finley of rap, Peaches paired perfectly with the subversive feminist power of Garbage’s Shirley Manson.”

$1.3 million in ticket sales

Heineken executives said the day’s talent and the crowd that turned out reflected the brand’s diverse consumer base, which is roughly 50% white, 25% African American and 25% Latino. They wouldn’t say how much they invested in the event, but because they owned it, they pulled in all receipts from the door, which amounted to more than $1.3 million.

From the moment music fans bought their $45 tickets, Heineken was in front of them, with messaging on each piece of communication leading up to the show. At the concert venue executives set up a “Green Light District,” where artists were creating such things as AmsterJam murals and windmills from empty Heineken keg cans, in a nod to the marketer and its Dutch heritage.

A partnership with MSN Music gave attendees free downloads on mini-discs from the artists performing during the day; 10,000 mini-discs were doled out. A DJ station showed people how to create their own mash-ups.

Heineken executives, via partner Ipsh, created a text-messaging program that allowed them to communicate directly with fans who opted into the system. In all, about 4,000 attendees joined the program, with some winning backstage tours and seat upgrades for taking part. The marketer did not use the program to collect data on the fans and told them upfront that their information would not be used beyond that day. The system sent text messages to fans throughout the concert, giving them artist updates and behind-the-scenes glimpses, and sending a pre-recorded “thanks for coming” message from Mr. Collins at the end of the night.

Heavy online build-up

Though it was a national branding opportunity, Heineken executives concentrated retail and promotional efforts regionally, with radio contests, club nights, street teams and print ads running around New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and other Northeastern cities. There was also a heavy online build-up for the show, which was open only to those 21 and over.

Heineken executives are considering their next move, whether that means a re-do next summer in New York, multiple shows in various markets, or a tour. They haven’t decided yet, and they’re waiting for the results of some consumer research to see how they might proceed.

“It was a huge Heineken sampling event where everybody was of age,” Mr. McCann said. “It was our way of trying to stay progressive and cutting edge.”
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