It has been a busy bunch of months at Heineken USA. Summer, of course, was beer time, so there’s that. The company also kicked off the season with a new campaign for its flagship Heineken brand, while also replacing its iconic “Most Interesting Man” campaign for the Dos Equis brand and launching new advertising in the U.S. for its Mexico-based Tecate brand.
New campaign efforts are intended to bring back the focus on emotional attitudes around the organization and to re-establish beer in special occasions where wine and liquor have been gaining favor, according to Heineken CMO Jonnie Cahill.
“Beer is still the beverage of choice for those moments, and we want to make sure that people remember what we’re all about,” he explained.
Read on for how Cahill is leading efforts to accomplish that.
CMO.com: You were named Heineken USA’s CMO in February, 10 years after first joining the company as CMO of Heineken Ireland. The company also has a new CEO, Maggie Timoney. What changes should we expect in Heineken’s branding and positioning as a result?
Cahill: [This] wasn’t part of a massively choreographed series of moves; it was just a natural cadence of our leadership organization. We do place a high emphasis on international experience, being the world’s most international beer brand.
But that said, it’s exciting because there’s a lot of fresh thinking, and at the same time there’s some consistency. Our chief sales officer remains a key partner on the marketing side; Ray [Faust] has been here for a while, so you get that and fresh thinking.
CMO.com: You also have some new offerings, like your Draft from Home online subscription program, and efforts in social and mobile. Where do these channels fit in?
Cahill: We want to make sure that we’re not only doing and saying the right things for the brand, but that we’re doing and saying those things in the right places. We believe in a balanced media strategy that reflects what’s going on with consumers—consumers commonly known as “people.” People are spending more time in social media and other digital channels, so our media mix is adapting accordingly.
I think the same is true of e-commerce. We’re fully respectful of the three-tiered system [of distribution]. We are working to see how we can help sell our beer to consumers at those moments when they want them. They’re all things we’re prepared to look at.
The world is changing, and therefore we need to understand how best to move with it, but also some of the fundamentals remain the same. I think if you get the balance right between those two things, you tend to have success.
CMO.com: Looking at your other efforts, you’ve been a big sponsor of soccer, which is not a big sport in the U.S. What are your plans for sports sponsorships in this market?
Cahill: Heineken is associated with soccer all over the world. We’re a long-term partner of, for example, the Champions League, which is the world’s most iconic football competition.
While we recognize soccer is not as big as something like college football or the NFL, we also have that connection to the sport, and we were really keen to bring that to the U.S. We see excellent growth rates in both the penetration and engagement and interest in the sport, which will only be helped by the announcement of the World Cup coming to the U.S., Mexico, and Canada in 2026. We’re really inspired by the work our partners in MLS are doing, where they have a clear, long-term vision for soccer in the United States, and they are making progress already.
Is it the biggest show in town? Maybe not. Is it the fastest growing? It might well be. And is it coming? For sure, and we’d like to be with the momentum.
Let’s also be honest: We are not the biggest beer brand in the USA, either. So we have to find spaces where we can also elevate our brand and cut through.
CMO.com: You’ve done other tie-ins, like partnering with the James Bond movie franchise and a multiyear sponsorship of FormulaOne. Are there more plans like that as well?
Cahill: We see clearly sports and beer have a complete overlap, and we’re not the only brand to play sports, but we do believe in a balanced portfolio of sponsorships.
Formula One is not only a sport, it’s a massive social event. It’s a very premium, very iconic social event, which is gathering pace here in the U.S. We see Bond obviously being part of the mix again. It’s not just a movie. It’s the whole entity and a brand in itself.
For us, the strategy is to have big iconic partnerships, as you’d expect with a premium international brand, but also to work hard on the ground—to do things that are relevant for people in their city and their town, in their neighborhood—to give content for the trade. It’s a mixed strategy for us.
CMO.com: What about for your other brands like Dos Equis and Amstel?
Cahill: You’ll see work coming from Dos Equis in the college football space in the fall, which we’ve just seen the first cut of, and they’re really exciting. I’m looking forward to getting those out into the market.
We should acknowledge “The Most Interesting Man” was a cultural phenomenon. ... It takes time to move beyond that. But with “Interesante,” we believe we’re on to something. The performance definitely supports that, so we’re pleased with what we’re seeing.
The Tecate [brand], as well, is a big play for us. It is the authority in boxing. We [were] very excited that Canelo and GGG [fought] in Las Vegas [last weekend]. It’s the fight everybody had been waiting for—I think not only boxing fans but people all over. Tecate [was] all over that, from the perspective of our partnerships with both Golden Boy and GGG.
You mentioned Amstel Light. For me, it’s a brand that seems to have a lot of a lot of potential and still remains very popular. After a few weeks of the road, it looks to me like a brand that we might want to do something with again to bring it back to its former glory. They’re the kind of projects that are exciting for a marketing organization as well to get behind.
CMO.com: What can we expect to see coming up next?
Cahill: I would say right now a lot of media, plenty of innovation in the market, and the new campaigns going with a lot of media investment behind them. ... In the end, the role of marketing is to help move that volume for our organization and our distributors. We hope that we can do well.
CMO.com: And in the middle of all that you’ve moved to New York with your family, as well?
Cahill: It’s funny, CMOs of beer companies have the best jobs in the world. It’s a privilege selling a beer for a living. It’s a brilliant thing to do. But like every dad, I was also getting ready for a school year and buying schoolbags of books and getting things organized. You might get to be CMO of Heineken from 8 to 8, but you’ve got to go home and be a dad as well.
CMO.com: So you’re saying that even marketers are consumers.
Cahill: It’s tricky, you know? I spend a lot of time in the detergent aisle. My wife asks, “What is wrong with you? You’ve got to move on.”
I think I’ve always been fascinated by that stuff, but I’m a difficult guy to go shopping with. It tends to be a slow grocery shop when I’m there.