'Even their agents were in on it' – Behind the Campaign, Heineken pranks ex-England football stars

Mark Perkins, creative director at Cow PR, reveals all about 'Finally together, to be rivals again’ – the agency's recent Heineken campaign for the Euros.

'Even their agents were in on it' – Behind the Campaign, Heineken pranks ex-England football stars

What was the campaign, in a nutshell?

Heineken, as an official partner of UEFA Euro 2020, wanted to show the joy in friendly rivalry, so we created two films: 'The Painting' and 'The Suit'. In each, a famous former England international, Rio Ferdinand then Jermaine Jenas, was set up by a rival and fellow broadcast pundit: proud Welshman Robbie Savage and Scottish legend Ally McCoist, respectively. At the end, the rivals share a Heineken together.

How did the idea come into being?

We needed a premium, witty idea that featured all the competing home nations. The rich territory was in Wales and Scotland’s mutual rivalry towards England. As part of Heineken’s ‘fresh perspective’ brand philosophy we were challenged to think beyond football. So, we turned to art and fashion.

What ideas were rejected?

Loads. We’d been appointed to produce a very different idea back in March 2020, which had to be scrapped due to the pandemic.

We started on a new brief in January 2021 and, if you cast your mind back, the situation was dire as we faced more months of hard lockdown and uncertainty. We had to keep changing course according to events. It wasn’t until late March that we had a clear view of where we’d be as a nation and an idea that felt right for the brand, the occasion and the target audience – and would get UEFA sign-off.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process

In April, we developed the outline plot and brand narrative for 'The Painting' and 'The Suit' at Cow. We then built them out and finessed them with the Heineken UK team, so it really was a collaborative effort to nail it.

In May, we appointed Agile Films to work with Cow Studio on the production, which was made under strict COVID-19 conditions. In addition to Ally and Robbie behind the scenes, the execution involved casting a number of actors in roles such as The Artist and The Tailor, plus Scottish sports presenter Emma Dodds, who played herself magnificently.

We went out with 'The Painting' on 4 June, a week before the start of the tournament, and 'The Suit' on 11 June, the opening day. This included social posts from our talent partners. However, sell-in started weeks before, with the media team at Cow leveraging talent interviews to support the campaign content.

What were the biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them?

What if Rio or Jermaine rumbled that it was a set-up before we had captured what we wanted? What if they reacted badly?

Each idea started with an ‘honour’ designed to flatter the England icon being set up. Also, brands often come up with ‘prestigious’ but contrived celebrity ideas in the name of PR. So, we were sending that up a bit, and hoped that Rio and Jermaine would feel obliged to go along with it – which allowed us to press their buttons a bit more.

Planning was meticulous and chemistry was critical: the rival had to be someone they knew, and eager to set up their mate, rather than just a random celebrity, otherwise it would fall flat. Even their agents were in on it.

Finally, achieving cut-through. Brands are going to saturate social feeds and journo inboxes with UEFA EURO 2020-related stunts and content, so props to our team for getting this featured everywhere.

How did you measure the results, and what were they?

It’s too early for a full brand and business metrics evaluation. However, five days into the tournament and we’ve achieved over 1.3m video views and landed an incredible 40 pieces of branded national coverage, with more in the pipeline – all using at least one of the two films.

What's the biggest lesson you took away from the campaign?

If you are planning a summer campaign during a winter pandemic, the lesson is to prepare the worst and hope for the best.

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