Heineken's F1 sponsorship 'a good fit', but don't expect an easy ride

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 1 August 2016
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardio in qualifying at the 2016 Australian GP.

Heineken’s sponsorship of the Formula One, similar in size and scale to the UEFA Champions League, provides the premium beer brand with another opportunity to be at the heart of prestigious global sports event, but don’t expect an easy ride or for the beer brand to back a winning car anytime soon.

The beer maker’s marketing strategy is to be a great host of memorable fan experiences at prestigious events rather than seeking the fame and glory attached to backing a successful team.

It's a strategy that places Heineken at the forefront of sports culture marketing, but investing in Formula One comes with risk.

Since 2008, the sport's global TV audience has dropped by nearly 200 million to 400 million in 2015. Attendances are strong at traditional tracks but struggle in newer markets in Asia and the Middle East, and there are a raft of factors that have contributed to F1's recent decline and make it a challenging proposition for brands.

Formula One is a hugely cluttered sport, making cut-through a challenge. It is also relatively expensive to attend and fans who attend have high expectations of trackside entertainment.

The sport has suffered a fan decline in the past few years for various reasons – the move to pay TV, weak competition, quieter cars, less technological variation, strange rules and dumbed down circuits.

Despite this F1 is still revered as the pinnacle of motorsport and Heineken Lion Australia managing director Andrew Campbell tells AdNews the choice to back it was a no-brainer.

“It’s one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events and that aligns well with being the world’s leading international premium beer brand that Heineken is,” Campbell says.

“Globally, it has a reach of 21 races and Heineken is in all of those continents so it gives us a great footprint to recruit new drinkers, get more awareness of the Heineken brand.”

F1's global beer brand

The sponsorship package, which makes Heineken the official beer partner of F1, includes naming rights for the Italy, Mexico and China GPs as well as being a major partner at GPs in Russia, Monaco, United Kingdom, Singapore, US and Brazil.

At other GPs, including Australia, Heineken will remain the designated global beer partner, which includes hospitality and VIP areas and spaces to activate.

Globally, activations will include F1 circuit branding, TV commercials, digital activations, live fan experiences and events, dedicated PR initiatives, and packaging/point-of-sale activations.

In terms of cost, Campbell wouldn’t disclose figures but describes it as similar to the UEFA Champions League in terms of investment size and “scale in which we leverage”. Heineken’s Champions League investment is reported to be worth around $70 million each year.

F1 legends David Coulthard and Sir Jackie Stewart will be Heineken ambassadors, an important part of providing fans with a 'Heineken experience' that the brand hopes will extend beyond trackside and race day.

"I fully expect we will be using Heineken’s expertise in how we bring the fan more into that environment behind the scenes, giving them experiences that they otherwise wouldn't get," Campbell adds.

“But I also see an opportunity outside of track in how we leverage digitally across the marketplace and work with Formula One to bring some of their marketing into the Heineken world of engaging with consumers.”

Campbell points to the success of Heineken's digital campaigns around the UEFA Champion's League, with some digital feeds reaching more than 2.5 billion people.

Examples of these are online videos that ask football fans awkward questions like if they'd like to see a Champions League game live if it meant ditching mates (The Dilemma) or girlfriends (The Cliche). 

Campbell believes clever and engaging digital creative will be an important component in winning over F1 fans, but in the short-term much focus will go on getting it right trackside.

“I’d set KPIs for three to four years down the track to being very happy with how we’re activating. In the short-term I think it is about working very closely with the Australian Grand Prix in terms of what a premium activation looks like, making sure we get it up and running in year one to very high standards, and then look at how we are going to broaden our interaction with Formula One across the rest of market,” Campbell adds.

“Success looks like fans coming away from the event and seeing that everything Heineken touches is a very premium, aspirational beer associated with it and consumers want to be part of the Heineken experience because it gives them access of experiences they can’t get anywhere else.”

In the hugely cluttered and sometimes fickle world of Formula One, providing that extra hook to a passionate and demanding fanbase will be vital if Heineken is to become synonymous with the sport.

Heineken sports sponsorship

• Aside from the Formula One, Heineken is a big sponsor of premier competitions in rugby, football and James Bond. 

• Helping Heineken along this journey will be media agency Zenith, which AdNews understands is not affected by the Lion media review, creative agencies Momentum and Holler, and communications agency Red Agency.

• Heineken spends 10% of global media spend on responsible drinking campaigns. “We will always be involved in the fan experience trackside or out of track but we’ll never necessarily be involved in a racing car itself but what a powerful opportunity to be bold about our proposal that if you drive never drink,” Campbell says.

• The Formula One has a global TV audience of about 400 million people. The Australian GP has the second-largest weekend attendance of just under 296,000 and the fourth largest race day attendance of just above 101,500. The British GP, where most of the teams are based, leads both with a weekend attendance of 350,000 and race day attendance of 140,000.

• Over the past 20 years, Heineken’s rugby sponsorship outlay is reported as $138 million, including the Rugby World Cup (RWC) and Heineken Cup. The 2014 RWC had a combined TV audience of 4 billion and the 2015 RWC attracted 2.6 million fans to games.

• Heineken has backed the UEFA Champions League since 1994. For the first 11 years as its European beer brand Amstel before the competition’s appeal became truly global and it use Heineken in 2005. Unconfirmed reports place the investment at $70 million each year.

AdNews attended the F1 grand prix in Melbourne this year, below are some photos of the event.

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