The Italian Grand Prix saw Heineken formally launch its Formula One partnership. Whilst the Dutch brewer took title sponsorship at the Canadian Grand Prix earlier in the year, Monza was always set to be the event in which the campaign shifted into high gear.
In the weeks preceding the Italian Grand Prix at the Black Book Motorsport Forum, Heineken executives spoke of strategy to bring Formula One to the fans, to improve the race going experience and seek ways in which to engage a millennial audience. If I am entirely honest I was somewhat sceptical. Brands all to often focus Formula One activation strategies around corporate entertainment and business to business network development.
With this in mind, upon arriving in Monza on the Thursday ahead of the Grand Prix the first thing I did was head to the fan village. In recent years the fan village, an area surrounding the circuit open to all ticket holders, has become little more than a few merchandising stands. It can feel as though the interests of the fan have been overlooked. Heineken have gone to great lengths to address this issue erecting a huge pop bar and entertainment space for fans, as pictured below. Whilst the beer isn’t free, prices are reasonable and they have created a communal space for fans away from the circuit.
Building on this, Heineken have addressed another common frustration amongst race going fans. How do you fill your time outside of track action? On Thursday evening, Heineken installed a temporary five a side football pitch on the start finish straight challenging Champions League stars to a game against Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Jolyon Palmer. Whilst it soon became clear the F1 drivers’ talents did not extend to the football pitch, it was fantastic to see Heineken hosting an event for the public outside of the regular F1 weekend schedule. More than 2000 fans filled the main grandstand to watch the game.
Of course Heineken must also use their partnership within F1 to address the fans at home and it would be naive to think there are no business to business expectations around the agreement. On Friday evening, Heineken set about explaining how these would be addressed. At the core of this session was the launch of the two advertisements Heineken have developed featuring Sir Jackie Stewart and David Coulthard. The production values of both films are incredible, and both have been extremely positively received. So much so, that Freddie Hunt, son of the late James Hunt has suggested Heineken use footage of his father in their next campaign.
@Heineken – https://t.co/0FTInu071v. Great advert but imagine it with James Hunt!!!! He loved #Heineken but never drove after drinking!
— Freddie Hunt (@freddiehunt76) September 5, 2016
To see the Heineken F1 adverts in full click here
What struck me about the Jackie Stewart film in particular was the core of the message. If You Drive, Never Drink. Whilst anti drink drive campaigns are nothing new, making this the fundamental message of a campaign for a beer company is a bold strategy. One unimaginable in other sectors. Heineken should be commended for this approach. They have acknowledged the challenges of associating alcohol with motorsport and addressed it head on. More over they are seeking to evolve an F1 weekend, from 2 hours of racing on Sunday into something much more significant. This is neatly tied up in the tagline ‘more than a race’.
I am hopeful that Heineken’s approach to fan engagement within Formula One, alongside a fresh approach from the sport’s new owners Liberty Media, will apply pressure to existing brands in the sport to do more with fans. In the beverage sector brand loyalty is fundamental to success and if Heineken can demonstrate new customer loyalty through Formula One and through engaging with fans you can be sure more brands will follow and the Formula One experience will only improve.
To read my interview with Heineken ambassador David Coulthard follow this link