Heineken – selling beer to old people since 2013

Posted by on Sep 2, 2013 in Editorial | One Comment


Big beer. Whisper it – or shout it from the rooftops if you like – but they are in trouble. People are buying less macro-lager these days, as year on year the same generic blandness fails to impress. Drinkers move on, get bored, or buy what’s cheapest. There’s no identity with the many, competing, brands. As Marketing Week reported recently, in the year June 2012 to June 2013, the top three performing lager brands (Corona: up 31%, Heineken: up 20%, and San Miguel: up 10%) corresponded exactly with the ratio of supermarket promotions during that period. In other words, punters buy what’s on offer; they drink with their eyes, rather than their tastebuds.

Is it any wonder, then, that the conglomerates behind these beers are constantly looking for a leg up? Searching for the thing that might differentiate them from their rivals, seeking out the holy grail of brand loyalty? As such, an email I got a few months ago from one of them – ironically one of the few who seem to be growing their market share (albeit against the overall background of reduced sales) – related to an idea they had to explore an untapped market. Fair enough, you would think – any business needs to look at new avenues to progress, and to stay relevant. The beer brand in question was Heineken, and the idea they had was fairly simple: they want to sell more beer to the over 60’s. A Heineken spokeswoman said…

“We see in many parts of the world an ageing global population which is increasingly living longer. Traditionally, our focus has been on younger consumer groups – we see potential in embracing all age groups. We are now looking for insights that can help us develop propositions that are better tailored to the specific needs of the 60+ consumer. At a later phase we will match ideas with relevant brands.”

Well, there you go. In a nutshell: us young’uns aren’t buying as much Heineken as we used to, so after a period of scrabbling around brainstorming, they have resorted to going after the previous generation. If ever there was a tacit admission that years of lager marketing has failed – that is it, right there. Maybe the Dutch looked at the attempts of others to stimulate lager sales – such as the PR disasters suffered by Molson Coors and Carlsberg in their attempt to market beer to women – and have picked another holy grail from the massed, shining ranks. Time will tell of course, but to me it looks like just another jewelled – and therefore false – grail, with the wooden one hidden somewhere, undiscovered and out of sight.*

*Six years of beer writing, finally an Indiana Jones reference

It’s easy to criticise on a blog, of course – certainly it comes easier than shoehorning in references to iconic late 80’s adventure films. But right from the off, this just seems doomed to fail. Heineken consulted with a range of design professionals, and invited pitches from members of the public on how to go about this (detailed in full at their ‘Ideas Brewery’ website). But – aside from a small admission on the aforementioned site that “consumers were interviewed”, have they really considered the opinions of their audience? Isn’t this the mistake marketeers make, time and time again? Thinking they know what people need, rather than realising what they want? Or, just as importantly, what they don’t want?

Heineken have openly admitted that, to date, they have concentrated too much on one specific group. So they are going to redress the balance by…concentrating on another group instead. Not retreating, ‘attack-marketing’ in a different direction. Is there a list of these mythical target groups, at Heineken HQ? A glossy flipchart in a glittering corporate building under the final approach to Schipol (which now, presumably, has the word ‘women’ crossed off)? Although, having said that, isn’t that what marketeers are supposed to do? Target new areas for expansion – realising that the over 65’s are to rise by 50% in twenty years must have seen Euro signs flash before their revolving, caffeine-dilated, eyeballs.

Having explored the Ideas Brewery website, I stumbled across the criteria for potential entries to the public competition. Or, as they call them, ‘insight themes’:-

1. Quality experiences, quality of life
The 60+ have a stronger focus on quality then they might have had in previous stages of their life. Their pace has changed and they place importance on time well spent, meals, enjoyment, etc.

or / and

2. Learning and (re)discovery
For this age group it is very important to stay vital and relevant. They commit to self-development, learning and new perspectives. Sometimes this also entails rediscovering things they liked to do when they were younger.

or / and

3. More time for activities
Today’s 60+ generation use their time, space and freedom to engage in new experiences and indulge in traveling, hobbies and social interaction.

It must include:

1. An idea for a beer product,
2. its packaging,
3. and the serving experience.

So, again, let’s imagine for a moment that they don’t want to go down the same route that doomed beer for women, and try to avoid patronising their target market. Goodness me. Looks like they have everything in line to avoid doing that, eh? Getting this straight – Heineken have over-committed to young people, and now want older people to buy their lager by rediscovering it, as if they did when they were younger. The entire thing is in danger of vanishing in a nightmarish PR Möbius strip. But, don’t take my word for it. In the name of research, I discussed this idea with a specially-invited focus group of 60-70 year old beer drinkers*

*i.e. I emailed my Dad and asked for a reaction. And boy, did I get one.

In between bouts of Learning and (re)discovery, here’s what my oldman thinks of Heineken’s attempt to market beer to his age group. I have edited some of this response…

Translation: This lot have got oodles more money than the bozo’s who usually buy our fizzy gunk so let’s see if we can get them to pay loads more for the same fizzy gunk on the grounds that they usually think if something costs a lot it’s bound to be seriously good.

However, some of these old buggers can be quite smart so the only way we’ll be able to fool them into buying the same gaseous bilgewater they bought when they were younger, skint and didn’t know any better will be to run a massive nostalgia campaign invoking rose-tinted memories of a mis-spent, Heineken-fuelled youth they almost certainly never experienced. We need to persuade these old buggers that wasting their time and money getting rat-arsed at every opportunity is the right life-style choice for them and we’ve got just the chemical concoction to help them achieve it.

By the way, why are the over-70s excluded from this campaign? Don’t they drink beer? Are they not yet ready for ‘new’ Heineken? Are Heineken working up a different, equally preposterous, formula to suck the even maturer into their marketing net? Something along the lines of – “Not long to go now. Ease your passage into the Heineken after-life with a crate of our smaller, lighter, large-print labelled bottles of chemi-mix lite?”

I think he remains unconvinced.

Anyway, the project goes ahead, and the three winners of the public ideas forum were recently announced. They are as follows:- in first place, Fahrenheit +60° – a range of beers fermented at different temperatures (60, 65, 70, 75 degrees), with each reflecting the target age group [so that answers my Dad’s point about the over 70’s]. The beers also contain iron, to help the health of elderly people. Second place went to Easy Star Bottle – a smaller and lighter bottle to make the brand more recognisable. Third, Rood Ster Vintage Brew – wine-flavoured beer.

Added iron. Y’know, for older people. Actually, hand-on-heart, I think the idea of different fermentation temperatures is actually really clever – I can see why that suggestion came out on top. I’m no brewer, but those temps seem a lot higher than those you’d normally use for lager, so there might even be a new range of Heineken products that result – Heineken Mild? A smaller and lighter bottle might appeal to the hard-seeing oldies, as they lean over their trolley on a Saturday morning, but it will also save Heineken money. Result! And wine-flavoured beer, well – I won’t hold my breath for Heineken, red wine barrel-aged version.

Anyway, seeing as he’d already built up a head of steam – and, presumably, there was still time to hammer the keyboard before Countdown came on – my Dad had opinions on the winning ideas, and whether they would persuade him to step away from pints of foamy Lancastrian ale and pick up a New Heineken. I’ll leave the final word to him. Time will tell as to whether these new ideas work…

Why stop at 75 degrees? Push on to 100, so the entire load of chemical excrescence evaporates, leaving we over 60’s to get on with what we enjoy doing already. Drinking real bitter that hasn’t been mass produced in a giant complex of aluminium sheds.

Selling Heineken as part of the health service is the real winner. Why stop at adding iron? Endless scope here. Like pumping a whole range of vitamin & health supplements into a chemi-soup. Plus Sanatogen. And Sennecot. Immodium. Viagra. And powdered rhino horn and shredded tiger bollocks to sew-up the Oriental market.

Why not offer free operations per number of bottles consumed (and survived)? Free stomach pump for every 10 bottles. Invasive surgery of your choice for every 1,000. Lobotomy for 10,000. And why not sign punters up for special end-of-life offer? Burial in a replica smaller, lighter, large-print labelled bottle of chemi-mix lite coffin…

This post was written as part of Boak and Bailey’s ‘long post day’, inviting beer writers to push the word limit up from their norm. At almost 1,700 I’m a long way behind Ron Pattinson’s 35,000 word post about porter (I’m not making that up). My Dad would like it to be known that in case Heineken’s legal team are reading, he currently resides in international waters.

1 Comment

  1. John Thompson
    September 2, 2013

    I think the mass produced 4% lager will fail to woo the 60+ cohort due to one small problem; WEE!
    This is an opinion on the product’s taste and the consequence of drinking pints of the stuff.
    Sadly a lot of older men have prostate problems and weeing becomes a challenge, so filling yourself up with tasteless lager is not going to be your first choice.
    Thus the half pint and a nip becomes a natural choice, and if you are rationing your volume you will go for a quality brew with a bit of character and taste.
    Heineken? Forget it!

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