Heineken, soon to be the world’s second largest brewer, is getting advice from an American craft brewery on how to market its beer to a new audience.
The company is using a partnership with California-based brewer Lagunitas to help modernise its marketing strategy, Heineken’s chief financial officer, Laurence Debroux, said in an interview.
Debroux said: “We’ve learned a lot from them in terms of marketing. Viral marketing, using social networks, you know these guys don’t do any TV advertising at all. They use a lot of digital, and we’re learning a lot here.”
The two brewers first partnered in September last year, when Heineken acquired a 50% stake in Lagunitas.
Heineken CEO Jean-Francois van Boxmeer has said that the company is “particularly excited” about their coming together.
Lagunitas is well-known in the USA for its eye-catching marketing strategy and branding. This includes a very cute dog, a Twitter account calling the company “Brewers of fine ales, mystery, and romance”, viral videos galore, and a heavy focus on rock music. Its website includes a music section, and numerous in-jokes, random cartoons, and a “schwagshop” where you can buy beer.
The brewery is unconventional in reaching a bigger audience. To give just one example, every summer it hosts the “Beer Circus”, a festival with music, lots of beer, and “freaktacular entertainment”, and then
creates a bunch of videos of what goes on to share on social media. You can see an example below:
That slightly off-the-wall, socially driven approach is in big contrast to Heineken, which, in terms of marketing and advertising, is best known for its huge global ad campaigns and major sponsorship deals for things like the Rugby World Cup, the UEFA Champions League, and even James Bond movies.
Heineken launched an multi-million pound ad campaign featuring Bond star Daniel Craig ahead of the latest film Spectre including the spectacularly produced TV ad “The Chase”.
In recent years though, it has started to increase its presence in the online and social spheres, with new campaigns like a so-called “digital sampling” project where customers can get a free beer by redeeming a coupon from Facebook and Twitter, which launched in September 2015.
Debroux didn’t give any details on specific campaigns that Heineken is working with Lagunitas on, but said that Heineken wants to “leverage what we’ve learnt with Lagunitas” and “bring the Lagunitas style to our way of business.”
In return, Heineken is using its distribution network to “put Lagunitas on the shelf in other countries,” she said.
More craft beer on tap for Heineken?
When Heineken bought its stake in Lagunitas, the move caused ripples in the craft brewing industry, with some accusing Lagunitas of “selling-out” and accusing its founder of hypocrisy. James Magee had previously said he’d “rather die on payroll” than be bought out by a big brewer, after meeting with an executive from AB InBev.
British brewer BrewDog, which has a similarly brash marketing strategy, stopped stocking Lagunitas beer in its chain of bars as a result of the tie-up, and some have also questioned whether — now that a company worth €35 billion owns 50% of the brewer — Lagunitas can still be considered a craft brewer.
So does this success mean more deals with craft breweries? Debroux was keen to emphasise the fact that despite Heineken’s success in its partnership with Lagunitas, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is looking to aggressively expand its holdings in craft beer companies. She did, however, hint that the brewer is considering more deals.
“While our strategy is not to aggregate lots of craft brewers through M&A, that doesn’t mean we will not be doing that at all, it’s just not a strategy based around acquisitions.
“We’re always opportunistic, so you never know, I’m not saying we won’t do it, but that’s not the strategy.”
Asked whether Heineken has any mergers with either craft or traditional brewers of any sort coming up in the short term, Debroux declined to comment, but said that the company will “continue to be active” when it comes to M&A.