Industry 0.0: Heineken on the rise of low-alcohol beer and its Formula E partnership

An interview with Gianluca Di Tondo, Senior Director, Global Heineken Brand

Beer, it is safe to say, has stood the test of time.

It is the oldest recorded recipe in the world, the Egyptian’s documenting brews with ingredients such as dates, pomegranates and indigenous herbs around 5,000 BC.

Harsh sounding by today’s standards, these ancient beer recipes have evolved into what is now a metropolis of variety accentuated by the rise of craft. From porters and pilsners to wheat and rye, it is arguably the most diverse beverage category of modern times.

The most recent beer phenomenon, however, has involved lowering or entirely removing a key ingredient – alcohol.

According to a recent MarketWatch report, the global non-alcoholic beer segment will grow at an annual rate of 7.7 percent between 2019 and 2024, activity which will see its value rise from $4.5 billion to just over $7 billion a year during this time.

For Heineken, the world’s second-largest brewer, this is a serious market. 

“Another report published by Global Data has shown that one of the main driving factors behind this comes from a noticeable behavioral change in Heineken’s target audience,” says Gianluca Di Tondo, Senior Director, Global Heineken Brand.  

“Today, 34 percent of 19-34-year-olds say they are often and, in some cases, always influenced by how a product affects their health and wellbeing when purchasing an alcoholic drink.”

Di Tondo and company have spent significant time and resources on marketing its non-alcoholic brand, Heineken 0.0, notably through its Now You Can series of TV adverts, one of which showing a driver ironically caught out by police for illegal parking.

“We believe in the power of our brands to help influence behaviours to make moderate drinking cool,” Di Tondo continues.  

“With Heineken 0.0 we are aiming to give consumers a choice for a variety of drinking occasions. It also contributes to the growing cultural trend around the importance of responsible alcohol consumption and living a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Moving forward our challenge will be to sustain this messaging and ensure that it continues to resonate with our consumers.”

Finding the formula

The brewer’s partnership with Formula E represents an opportunity to do just this.

Signing a five-year agreement to become the electric street racing series’ official beer and cider partner in October 2018, Heineken is building on the successful collaboration with other major sporting events such as Formula One, UEFA Champions League and Rugby World Cup.

For Di Tondo, this latest campaign presented the ideal opportunity to market the 0.0 brand and spread the responsible drinking message.

“With Formula E we share a passion for excellence, progressiveness, and creating enjoyable and memorable moments in cities all around the world,” he says.

“We also have a shared belief about the importance of being in control and putting safety first, and we will use the partnership to further embed Heineken’s “When You Drive, Never Drink” campaign, which is a key part of our Brewing a Better World sustainability strategy.”

In practice, Heineken has been helping to transform several host cities throughout the 2018/19 season which is set to conclude in New York on July 14.

This has centred around the ‘If you’re in the city, you’re at the race’ campaign, tapping into consumers’ passion points and leveraging the unique identity of Santiago, Mexico City, Rome and New York to create impactful brand moments and electric entertainment. Such activations have included circuit branding, digital initiatives, PR activation and live fan experiences.

Starting with the four aforementioned cities, Di Tondo’s ambition is to expand the partnership as the five-year agreement progresses.

“Formula E is one of the most exciting new sporting properties,” he adds. “It gives Heineken an excellent opportunity to engage with current and potential millennial and GenZ (above LDA) consumers in key cities around the world.

“We will do this by showing fans unexpected and interesting facets of the sport, activating strongly around key race locations.”

Indeed, the marketing specialist concludes be restating the value of such collaborations in order to grow its customer base and generate further awareness of the non-alcoholic beer category.

“To continue to fuel our growth we needed to engage with new consumers and expand our global footprint, as well as connecting with significant sporting events in Heineken’s target markets.

“It is essential to associate with premium properties to drive awareness and allow us to market effectively. Therefore, we needed a platform that complemented our existing partnerships, and shared the same values and passions as our consumers. This will ultimately enable us to recruit new consumers in order to drive penetration and growth.”


Bonus question - How important is When You Drive, Never Drink to Heineken? 

Asked how important this campaign is to Heineken’s partnership with Formula E, Di Tondo responds: “It communicates a powerful anti-drink driving message where consumers are left in no doubt – when you drive, you never drink.”

“It reinforces our view that when you’re behind the wheel, abstinence is the only option. In 2017, Heineken conducted wide ranging global research into behavioural drink driving triggers. The insights from this have enabled the brand to better target its marketing in order to reduce drink driving.

“Our 2018/19 campaign featured a robust behavioural change programme and a new communications campaign, featuring former F1 World Champion and Formula E investor and ambassador, Nico Rosberg, both with a clear commitment to drive real change.

“The non-alcoholic segment is a very interesting prospect for Heineken and our Formula E partnership is an excellent opportunity for us to expand on our innovative products and moderate drinking platform, in new and exciting ways.

“In 2019, our aim is to keep pushing the envelope with our ‘Enjoy Responsibly’ messaging and continue to affect real and noticeable behavioural change.”