SQN’s resident beer drinking F1 fan @Stu_Owen_Auto reflects on what the Heineken and F1 partnership can mean for the sport.
Water. Barley. Hops. Yeast. Four simple ingredients, but four ingredients that started what has become one of the biggest brands in the world. Heineken are a shining example of how to conduct brand activation in a successful and thoughtful manner.
They’ve sucked me right in; even as I’m writing this I’ve got a #HEINEKENEXPERIENCE band hanging loosely around my wrist! It was whilst I was sipping on my extra cold Heineken at the bar of what felt like a trendy nightclub (but was actually in the basement of the old Heineken brewery in Amsterdam), that I realised what a fantastic job they have done at engaging with their audience.
Having learnt about the history of the company, and been educated on their secret ingredient, I was then whisked through a blur of rooms full of interactive screens, photo booths, pint pouring challenges, computer consoles, signed football memorabilia, and rugby conversion challenges. I was surrounded by people of various ages and nationalities, and everyone seemed to be having a jovial time (even I cracked a smile when I won a free beer for getting the Dutch word for ‘cheers’ correct!). I’m fairly certain many of these people hadn’t even tried a Heineken before or even liked the taste of it, but they were all having a fantastic time and had been drawn into the ‘experience’, and that is what Heineken has done so well.
Having been on a previous brewery tour in Prague (I’m not an alcoholic, honest!) our guide said something that resonated with me. Whilst trying a local stout, he told us that the globally renowned stout that goes by the name of Guinness certainly isn’t the nicest stout in the world, but they’ve convinced us that it is the best and only stout that we should be drinking. They have achieved this through brand activation, marketing, and fan engagement. This is what Heineken have also done; you can make people buy your drink not necessarily because of how it tastes, but because of the positive experiences associated with the brand as a whole. Having wobbled my way back from the Heineken Experience to our accommodation I was then intrigued to read of the deal between Formula One Management (FOM) and Heineken for the brand to become a global partner of F1.
Initial articles about the rumoured, and only just confirmed partnership, spoke about the deal being a ‘game-changer’ for fans; perhaps a valid and truthful comment based on their previous sports sponsorship activations. Heineken have been involved in many different sports, but their two largest activations are with rugby, through their World Cup partnership and previous European Cup involvement, and football, through their Champions League sponsorship.
Heineken has done an excellent job at broadening the interest of football and the Champions League through its creative and light-hearted campaigns featuring many star names from the sport, both past and present. A brief look through their current Champions League campaign on both Twitter and Facebook will lead you to see Rio Ferdinand having a make-over, Clarence Seedorf live tweeting from the Heineken account during a match, and Carlos Puyol using his dazzling (!) skills to find his way into a bar so that he can watch the footy with his pals. At no point do any of the players take themselves too seriously, the whole purpose of the campaign is to allow us to relate to the scenarios they find themselves in and to ultimately have a beer with your mates watching the sport that you love.
Can Heineken apply this same tactic to Formula One? Very possibly. Does Formula One need this type of campaign? Absolutely. Far too much of the time we hear fans moaning about the lack of accessibility in Formula One, not being able to hear the true voice of the drivers and see their personable sides. Granted they will still have a biased voice with their Heineken hats on, but this partnership could see the brewing company put past and present drivers in scenarios that we never see them in, allowing the fans to engage with the drivers and to see their human side. Imagine Mika Hakkinen giving us a lap-by-lap commentary on a live race, or Giancarlo Fisichella knocking on your door and settling down on your sofa to watch the Grand Prix together. That would be pretty cool, and Heineken have the ideas and resources to make that happen. That can only be a good thing for Formula One, because despite what Bernie thinks, the sport needs to reach out to a younger audience and engage them in ways that other sports aren’t currently doing.
When you consider the list of past and present FOM partners it is easy to see why the championship desperately needs a consumer brand to be involved. Between Pirelli, DHL, Rolex, UBS, and Fly Emirates you have got a mix of luxury & commercial companies. It’s not like you can ask your mates if they want to pop into town and get their Rolex watches before settling down to watch the F1, or go and get their new Pirelli tyres before watching the live race. You can, however, ask your mates if they want to get a crate of Heineken and watch the race together. Finally there is a consumer product that can speak to fans in a way that none of the other FOM partners are able to. It opens up so many realms of opportunities, and this isn’t just a ‘game-changer’ for fans on social media and across digital as it also allows for huge potential for on-site activation with Heineken experience areas at the track and the potential for big screens showing the live races outside of the circuit.
Heineken could put the fun back into Formula One and engage with a young audience in an entertaining and interactive manner. This of course will only work if the sport is willing to embrace the partnership; if it is to fulfil its full potential then it is going to have to accept that the sport needs to move into the modern world, and if it does this then it might just be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Anyway, all this excitement has made me quite thirsty, anyone for a beer?