Since its UK launch in the 1960s, when British palettes leaned more towards real ales and weak lagers, Heineken had sold a 3.4 per cent strength version of its lager in the UK rather than its five per cent strength counterpart available in 170 other countries.
But with tastes veering towards stronger lagers over the last few years, and with its license with Whitbread ending in February this year, the Dutch brewery decided to synchronise its UK brand with the rest of the world by removing all its Heineken 3.4 per cent Cold Filtered, and introducing premium five per cent Heineken.
As part of a ten-year strategy, introducing the five per cent lager signified a huge investment for the company. Withdrawing all the Heineken Cold Filtered 3.4 per cent from bars and pubs across the UK signalled the entire loss of the brewery's share of the lower strength lager market. As a result, it would have to re-sell five per cent Heineken into the on and off trade, in addition to establishing a distribution network.
To communicate to its target audience of 18 to 35-year-old males, through the national and lifestyle media, that 3.4 per cent Heineken would be replaced by the five per cent version.
Heineken also wanted to see a boost in sales of the new strength lager and generate interest for the product in bar listings. Furthermore, the brewery wanted to ensure the introduction of the five per cent lager was not misconstrued as a brand image change.
Strategy and Plan
Heineken wanted to promote its message of change by selecting celebrities with strong personas, and then altering their images.
PiranhaKid spokeswoman Lucy Freeborn says: 'We initially approached journalists from our target press to gauge their opinion on which celebrities they thought would be most effective.
'We also decided it would be beneficial to use more than one celebrity in order to command more media interest and therefore prompt a wide range of exclusives across competing titles, for example The Sun and the Daily Mirror, Maxim and FHM,' she adds.
Whittling down the 50 proposed celebrities, Heineken and PiranhaKid together selected seven who they felt fitted in with the new premium brand image.
Zoe Ball, Johnny Vegas, Ronan Keating, Holly Valance, Ralph Little, Jodie Kidd and Craig David were eventually chosen. Heinkenen and PiranhaKid then discussed with each celebrity how they would achieve a dramatic alter ego. The PR team brought in well-known photographer Rankin to take the campaign shots, hoping this would get more buy-in from the celebrities and therefore reduce their rates, which was achieved. Fees for the celebrities finally ranged from £10,000 to £40,000.
Contracts secured with the celebrities ensured there would be no media exclusions, they agreed to mention Heineken and its change and were also prepared to be interviewed and filmed for television footage.
The celebrities were also requested to attend a launch party at the Proud Gallery in Camden, London.
Measurement and Evaluation
With 129 media items, the campaign smashed the expected response of between 30 and 50. More than 39 minutes of broadcast coverage were accumulated across 14 programmes, including the National Lottery show The Wright Ticket, RI:SE, Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Take Away, Liquid News, and also on MTV.
Channel Four screened a half-hour documentary - Hot Shots - using PiranhaKid's footage of the celebrity transformations at the conclusion of the launch week.
The Sun and the Daily Mirror covered the campaign on the same day, both giving it front-page coverage, while Maxim ran a three-page spread and FHM ran a five-page spread of Holly Valance.
Managing editor at FHM Dominic Smith said: 'The campaign was effective.
Heineken targeted the right publications and used celebrities we would want to cover. It was great seeing Holly Valance looking so different.
I think it got the message across very well.'
Trade magazines also picked up on the story. The Publican drinks editor Ben McFarland claims the introduction of the five per cent version was 'the biggest beer news story of the year'.
He adds: 'It's a big change for the brand, as while the old Heineken sold well, it was in decline. It's a brave move to lose all the listings so it clearly needed to shout about the change to make people aware of it. The PR campaign went to town and there was a lot of coverage in the trade press on whether it would work or not.'
External evaluation of the campaign is being conducted by Media Proof, whose spokesman, Dave Gardner, says: 'The target audience was reached with the demographic showing a bias towards ABC1 males in the 18 to 34 age group.'
The campaign also met the business objective of generating interest in listings. Enquiries from bars to the Heineken sales team surged in March, particularly when The Sun and the Daily Mirror published the story.
Industry organisation the Portman Group, whose objective is to promote sensible drinking and avoidance of the misuse of alcohol, had initially raised concerns, requesting that consumers were made aware of the change in Heineken's strength.
PiranhaKid provided information to the association about the PR strategy and the supporting advertising campaign, and reassured the group that the change in strength was the whole focus of the campaign.