Heineken Video Stunt Woos U.S.-Based Champions League Fans

Dutch beer brand tries to connect with the 90 million U.S. passionate fans of European football.

Build Loyalty

While Budweiser and its puppy may have a stranglehold on the American football market, Dutch beer brand Heineken is targeting a smaller subset of U.S. football fans – or, more specifically, American fans of European football. According to Heineken’s figures, there are 90 million such fans in the U.S. The brand has kicked off its #ChampionTheMatch UEFA Champions League campaign in order to bring those fans “closer to the sport they love.”

Heineken understands how challenging it is to be a fan of soccer in the U.S. – particularly a fan of UEFA Champions League because the games are normally played on weekdays during work hours. So the brand is finding ways to get U.S. fans closer to the game in new and exciting ways, said Quinn Kilbury, senior director of marketing at Heineken.

“We know that soccer is a sport that has been growing in popularity here in the U.S. But we also know that many American fans feel left out when it comes to being able to watch the biggest European games on the biggest stages,” Kilbury said. “We conducted a survey that showed that half of Americans under the age of 35 would be bigger fans of soccer if it was easier to watch. So as a result, we wanted to create a campaign that would connect American soccer fans to the greatest soccer tournament in Europe, the UEFA Champions League.”

Heineken’s campaign includes a dedicated soccer site, which it says is “a new source for exclusive content, expert insights from UEFA legends, fan Q&As and more.” It also includes video content.

Fans Prove Their Passion

To see how far American fans would go to get their UCL fix, Heineken says it conducted another one of its social experiments, in which it filmed “unsuspecting fans” in a New York bodega during lunch hour and “offered them a choice to go back to work or drop everything and immediately fly to Barcelona to watch a UCL match live.”

However, in order to participate, they had to bring their bosses with them.

Heineken has been a sponsor of the Champions League since and shares fans’ passion for soccer. Further, the spur-of-the-moment/bring-your-boss caveat forced fans to “prove their passion on the spot,” he said.

The resulting YouTube video has about 64,000 views as of February 19.

Challenge Consumers To Step Out Of Their Comfort Zones

This isn’t the first time Heineken has pulled a spur-of-the-moment video stunt like this. Its Departure Roulette video, in which it asked passengers at JFK to change their itineraries at the last minute, has more than 3 million views to date.

Another social experiment, The Payphone, tapped comedian Fred Armisen to anonymously call a payphone across the street from a comedy club in New York and reward consumers “who were brave enough to answer the call and walk into the unknown…with a unique experience.” It has nearly 14 million views since it posted in July.

“Heineken has always maintained a belief that you can live a legendary and more exciting life when you step out of your comfort zone and try something new,” Kilbury said. “Our social experiments are about posing a challenge to consumers to ‘cross their borders,’ step out of their comfort zones and receive a once in a lifetime experience, like getting to watch a live UCL match in Barcelona that same day, that only Heineken can provide.”

‘Champion The Match’

In addition to the dedicated site and videos, Heineken invites fans 21 and over to follow @HeinekenSoccer and the hashtag #ChampionTheMatch, where the brand says they can receive real-time access and live commentary from former players, such as former Champions League champion and current Major League Soccer star David Villa and “Dutch legend” Ruud Gullit, as well as “unexpected guests, and surprise Heineken twists during marquee matches throughout the tournament.”

@HeinekenSoccer has about 6,000 followers as of February 19; per Topsy, #ChampionTheMatch has been used about 15,000 times in the past week.

“Much of the campaign involves these stars showing how you can ‘champion the match’ from wherever you are in the world,” Kilbury said. “Sometimes that means from a remote chalet in the Swiss Alps or in a New York City office.”

The Heineken soccer site will also house information about upcoming events including additional Twitter handle takeovers, plus details on the arrival of the Champions League trophy and its tour across the U.S., in which fans can take photos with the trophy, see Champions League memorabilia and meet soccer legends and UCL winners in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles. Per the UEFA, Champions League began in June and will end with a final in Berlin on June 6.

Creating Loyal Fans For Life

“If Heineken is targeting American fans of European football, then I can only assume that they have some research which shows that Americans who follow the UEFA Champions League are more likely to drink beer from a Dutch brewing company,” said Greg Jarboe, president of internet marketing services firm SEO-PR. “That may not seem like a large market segment, but Heineken’s current market share is around 2 percent, so targeting niche market segments on this side of the pond makes sense.”

While the number of U.S.-based fans of European football may not be huge, Thom Craver, vice president of development and IT at marketing and SEO services company Internet Marketing Ninjas, says the ones who do know the game are quite passionate.

“You can go to any MLS stadium and find a good percentage of people who are truly fans,” he said.

If Heineken is looking for viral video success, he said the marketing budget to fly consumers to Barcelona is likely cheaper than comparable marketing initiatives and has the added advantage of cementing incredibly loyal fans.

“Soccer fans are quite passionate, so if [Heineken] can get behind that and [enable] fans to see their favorite team across the pond and get them to drink beer, too, [they’ll create loyal fans for life],” Craver said.

Craver even likens Heineken’s so-called social experiments to Bud Light’s #UpforWhatever campaign.

“It’s those kind of stunts [that prove] viral marketing is working and it’s on par if not cheaper [than other marketing efforts] and can make fans for life,” Craver said. “This is [Heineken] trying to go into new markets and really handpick their target audience with messaging they know will work.”

What do you think of Heineken's efforts to attract U.S.-based UCL fans?