Online Extra: Heineken: One Brew, Many Countries

Setting its sights even farther globally, it's relying on a common message to sell its brand across borders and cultures

Brad Pitt just wants a fresh six-pack of Heineken. But nothing is simple if you're Brad Pitt. As soon as the film hunk sets foot outside his high-rise apartment building, a battalion of paparazzi storms after him, tripping over each other and scrambling over parked cars to get a shot. Pitt, cool as ever, ducks out the back door of the neighborhood bodega and makes it home with his beer intact.

The commercial, featuring dozens of actors plus Pitt, ran only once in the U.S. -- during the 2005 Super Bowl. But it generated publicity far beyond the game. It didn't hurt that the breakup of Pitt's marriage to Jennifer Aniston was all over the gossip magazines at the time. "We didn't organize the split of Brad and Jennifer," quips Pascal Gilet, global marketing manager for Heineken (HINKY ).

Despite the talk of audience fragmentation and how it renders many traditional forms of advertising obsolete, the 30-second spot is far from dead at Heineken, which had profits last year of $956 million on sales of $12 billion. But the Pitt commercial, which eventually ran in 25 countries, shows how big brands can stretch their advertising investments, generating a buzz that reaches an audience bigger than the one sitting in front of the TV. Super Bowl ads always generate enormous media interest -- the interest in a star's personal life notwithstanding.


  Heineken also got major mileage out of its arrangement with the John Travolta film Be Cool, released earlier this year. Travolta appeared as his movie character, Chili Palmer, in a spot that promoted both the beer and the movie. Indeed, the commercial looks like a movie trailer, except that at the end Travolta winds up in a bar drinking a Heineken, and the spot ends with the Heineken tagline, "meet you there." Heineken also received product placement in the film.

For Heineken, which is one of the most recognized brands around the world, such advertising is a big part of creating a consistent identity globally. That's becoming even more important because Heineken's more-affluent-than-average customers travel and encounter the beer in varied countries.

Thus, Heineken is rolling out the "meet you there" tagline globally, in English, and it's placing more emphasis on spots that can cross borders. Besides helping keep local Heineken units on message, leveraging spots internationally helps ensure classy creative work, which Gilet sees as crucial to the beer's premium image. "Heineken is a brand that is delivering enjoyment, and enjoyment has to be done in a witty and humorous way, not slapstick," says Gilet. "A bit beyond the obvious -- that's the premium feel consumers expect."


  One commercial, created primarily for the U.S. market, shows a young man at a party with his arm deep in a barrel of ice. He gropes around until finally he hauls out a bottle of Heineken. Then he joins his friends, who are all holding bottles of Heineken and shivering. The spot has been shown in 20 countries. "U.S. commercials are also able to travel very much," says Gilet. "[Some things] can be relevant in more than one country."

Of course, TV is not the only way to reach an international audience. Music is a big part of the beermaker's efforts to continually attract new generations of Heineken drinkers. Its "Thirst" tour is a kind of traveling DJ extravaganza with events in places as far-flung as Ireland, Vietnam, and a beach in Dubai. On Aug. 20, Heineken is staging "Amsterjam" on Randall's Island in New York City.

The event, featuring music by bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, capitalizes on Heineken's roots in freewheeling Amsterdam, right down to an Amsterdam-themed village.


  Is all this working? The company's brand equity slipped 1% last year in BusinessWeek and Interbrand's annual survey of the top global brands, and Heineken just barely made the list at 100th place.

Still, Heineken's share price has risen 9% this year amid expectations that profit will improve in 2006. Analysts such as those at Lehman Brothers have upgraded the shares. Given such signs, chances are good that Heineken's green bottle will continue its global expansion.

By Jack Ewing

Edited by Patricia O'Connell

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