As beer consumers have been looking to trade up and explore new flavors, the imported beer segment has been enjoying growth. In fact, the imported beer segment grew about 8.4 percent in dollar sales in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 28, 2014, in channels measured by Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. To keep this momentum going, however, beer brands need to continue to find ways to connect with their core consumers through marketing and new product innovations, according to the experts at HEINEKEN USA, White Plains, N.Y.

Coming off of strong sales years for four of its imported beer brands — Tecate, Dos Equis, Strongbow, and Heineken and Heineken Light — the company has chosen to focus this year on these brands with a stronger marketing emphasis and even new products and packaging, Chief Marketing Officer Nuno Teles, says.

Beyond these brands’ growth trends, the company also selected these brands based on how well they connect with three key insights impacting consumer behavior, he says. “First, the Hispanic population is growing and is expected to exceed 100 million [people] by 2050,” he explains. “The influence of this consumer base has been a constant, and in regard specifically to beer, it’s forecast to grow 50 percent in the next five years. This phenomenal growth is having a profound effect on American culture from food and beverages to music, sports, film, fashion and much more.

“The second insight revolves around flavor promiscuity,” he continues. “Seven out of 10 [legal-drinking-age and older] consumers are open to experimenting with new flavors and styles of foods and beverages, and 50 percent of them are willing to pay more for something new and unique. Flavored beverages, beyond beer, already account for 30 percent of upscale consumption and are growing three times faster than the upscale segment.”

The third important insight is that consumers are looking for more than just a drink; they want an experience, Teles says. “All four of our core brands are focused on providing captivating and legendary experiences that reach consumers at every touch point along the path to purchase from traditional media and [public relations] through digital, social and legendary event activations,” he explains. Through these efforts, the brands hope to forge deeper connections with consumers, allowing both parties to better understand each other’s values and how they support each other, and spark meaningful conversations in the physical and digital worlds.

Know your audience

In order to create a physical and digital marketing campaign to share a brand’s core messaging and values with consumers, the brand must first understand who its target consumer is. For HEINEKEN USA’s Tecate Light brand, that consumer also lives in two worlds. “For the Tecate Light brand, we are talking about a bicultural Mexican consumer,” explains Tecate Brand Director Belen Pamukoff. “They speak English, they may or may not speak Spanish … and they live between these two cultures. Their heritage is from Mexico, but they were born in the United States. The Mexican bicultural consumer is really good at navigating and living with this duality. They are Americans … but also pull out the Mexican side when they want.”   

To connect with these consumers, the brand team identified the duality of the Tecate Light brand and created a campaign based on these qualities. The brand brought to life its Black Eagle icon, which is a symbol of duality itself, Pamukoff explains. “The eagle is a very strong animal, but it’s a bird, it flies, it’s light,” she says. “These bicultural Mexican consumers, because of this duality, they are very bold in the decisions that they make, in the way that they live their lives. They are very driven by their goals, what they want to achieve, and what they want to make. The black eagle represents that.”

Pamukoff also notes that Tecate Light, as a beer, represents a duality because it is a light beer that is full of flavor. “So the eagle has two jobs, one is to represent the target, … but also the liquid,” she says.

From these notions, the Born Bold TV and digital campaign was born to pull even more consumers from the other domestic premium light brands and into the Tecate Light franchise, Pamukoff says. “The majority of domestic premium lights are declining, but Tecate Light is growing at an amazing rate [of 55 percent], so it is a big, big opportunity,” she notes. Running through the end of the year, the campaign primarily targets consumers in the Sun Belt states, namely Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas, which are home to 84 percent of Mexican-origin Hispanics and 21 million of the bicultural consumers that Tecate Light targets, she says. 

However, the campaign does include a local TV buy-in on English-speaking TV networks during sporting events, because biculturals enjoy watching soccer, football and basketball, Pamukoff notes. Born Bold’s two TV spots, “Apartment” and “Work,” introduce the Black Eagle as a character and showcase his values, character, friendships and “never-ending hunt for the bold flavor of Tecate Light,” the brand says.

In a digital extension of these spots, the brand also plans to launch a four-part video series called “One Bold Night,” which tells the story of the Black Eagle’s night out with his human friends in June and July. To bring the Black Eagle to life for this digital series, as well as the TV spots, the brand worked with Method Studios, the animation company that brought to life the tiger in “Life of Pi,” to create an animated eagle.

“We play a little bit with what is reality and what is not,” Pamukoff explains. “The Black Eagle represents the target. He has friends, but you will never see the eagle talking. The eagle behaves like an eagle, but he can communicate with the other characters … so it’s a combination between having that heroic, epic animal that is friendly and close to the consumer.”

The videos will be posted to Facebook, YouTube and a few other sites, Pamukoff notes.

Born Bold also has a real-life component further celebrating the duality of the brand and its core consumers. On Aug. 14, Tecate Light will celebrate Black Eagle Day, a new holiday situated at the halfway point between Fourth of July and Mexican Independence Day, on Sept. 16, to represent the blending of the two cultures. “No other brand has recognized it and celebrated it,” Pamukoff says.

For its inaugural celebration, the brand planned an “unexpected” event in Los Angeles based on the Born Bold campaign to generate press coverage and further promote the brand, according to Pamukoff.

Flavorful innovations

Whether celebrating Black Eagle Day or any of the holidays throughout the year, HEINEKEN USA’s brands are focused on offering flavorful product innovations to give legal-drinking-age consumers even more options.

In February, Tecate launched Tecate Diablo, a traditional Michelada recipe that includes beer, tomato juice, lime and spices, the company says. The new product offering taps into the interests of the Mexican-origin Hispanic population in the United States as well as the growth of the chelada segment, Pamukoff says. The 7-million-case segment is growing 50 percent and outpacing all other segments within the beer category, she says. Tecate Diablo is available at retail in 24-ounce cans.

Also bringing flavor innovation to the Mexican import segment is Dos Equis’ Dos-A-Rita, which launched in April 2014. “Dos-A-Rita is pretty special, because it was born from an on-premise trend that we noticed happening in Texas, so we have an authentic reason to play in the space,” explains Dos Equis Junior Brand Manager Stephanie Dexter. “People were adding a turned-over Dos Equis to their Margarita. With that plus the flavor trend, which is exploding, we saw Dos-A-Rita as a great opportunity for the brand to come in.”

Dos-A-Rita is a blend of Dos Equis Lager and Margarita flavors and is sweetened with 100 percent premium Agave nectar, the company says. As a 7.2 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) flavored malt beverage, Dos-A-Rita steals shares from wine and spirits and brings even more consumers to the brand, Dexter says. The product’s core consumer base includes both males and females in the 22-34 age range, she notes.

In its first year on the market, the product performed well enough to inspire the brand to expand distribution into an additional 12 states and increase media investment by 15 percent, she says. Additionally, the brand released a redesigned cube pack in 2015 to boost its presence on shelf, she notes. “The feedback from last year was that we had nice-looking packaging … but it functionally wasn’t sitting on the shelves as nicely as possible, and it wasn’t easy to hold,” she explains. “So, [we] just reconfigured for purely logistical reasons.” The redesigned 12-pack of 8-ounce cans hit store shelves May 11 in select markets.

For digital support, the brand launched a campaign, also on May 11, with “Sons of Anarchy” star Kim Coates. “The campaign platform is ‘Entirely Unexpected,’” Dexter explains. “With a name like Dos-A-Rita, you might think the liquid is super sweet or perhaps artificial-tasting. But names can be deceiving. So is a guy named Kim. For example, in one of the spots, Kim states, ‘You would think someone named Kim loves skirts’ and the video pans out to show Coates grilling a skirt steak,” she explains. “For a second, you think you’re really going to see him in a skirt, but then the situation twists into something unexpected,” she notes.

Also joining Dos Equis Lager, which has seen double-digit growth thoughout the last 11 years, is Dos Equis Roja which is launching this summer. The red lager is crafted with Mexican malted barley and hops and offers a refreshing, palatable taste for summer, Dexter explains. “It varies dramatically from Dos Equis Lager, but in a positive way that complements the core brand,” she says. “So we’re just experimenting and flexing our muscles in terms of creativity for beer styles. There’s just so much you can do, and it’s an exciting way to bring more people into the brand. There’s something for everybody.”

Going strong with cider

HEINEKEN USA’s Strongbow brand also is expanding its portfolio to offer hard cider flavors for everybody. Last year, the brand phased out the original Strongbow hard cider recipe and launched its Gold Apple and Honey varieties, which received accolades from both the beverage industry and consumers, says Strongbow Brand Director Alejandra de Obeso. Honey, in particular, was a strong innovation for the brand because it performed just as well as the flagship Gold Apple variety, she notes.

“Overall, the success story for the brand in 2014 is that we closed the year incredibly strong, we doubled our share of total volume,” de Obeso says. “We have an exploding rate of sales number for the brand … per New York-based Nielsen, we’re up 55 percent in rate of sales. … In the last four weeks, [volume has been] up 130 percent. We have been the fastest-growing hard cider brand in the past eight months in a row.”

The brand hopes to continue that growth with the launch of its two latest flavor innovations: Red Berries and Ginger. Strongbow Red Berries delivers a blend of mixed berries with lemon notes and a crisp apple finish, while Strongbow Ginger pairs the taste of fresh-sliced ginger with muscato notes, the company says. Both varieties launched as part of a Strongbow mixed-pack in March and embody the brand’s mission to create new innovations with recognizable flavors and apple at their core, de Obeso says.

Also to drive growth, the brand launched a TV commercial campaign in March featuring actor Sir Patrick Stewart titled Bestest Over Ice to teach consumers about the best way to drink Strongbow hard cider. “We strongly believe our product is the best-tasting cider, especially when you drink it over ice,” de Obeso explains. “[For this campaign,] we recognize that taste is very important for consumers. … We are very lucky to partner with Sir Patrick Stewart, who is the total class act and a fan of the brand, to be able to tell the story that our cider is so good that, when you taste it over ice, you don’t even need a celebrity endorsement of his caliber to enjoy it.”

In the campaign’s first month on the market, Strongbow sales in Nielsen-measured channels jumped from a 105 percent growth rate to 140 percent, de Obeso says. The brand hopes to continue its growth with more digital marketing campaigns throughout the year. For summer, the brand is planning a “Hit Refresh on Summer” campaign to remind consumers to kick off their summer afternoon with friends by enjoying a Strongbow hard cider over ice, she says. In the fall, the brand’s campaign “Make it Strongbow Season” will encourage consumers to enjoy the hard cider during the apple harvest season, she adds.

All about the experience

Like Strongbow, HEINEKEN USA’s Heineken Light brand is on a marketing mission to educate consumers about its taste experience. In 2013, the brand conducted industry research and found that millennial consumers are seeking full-flavored light beers, explains Heineken Senior Brand Director Nipa Parekh. Based on this insight, the brand added Cascade Hops, which are commonly used in India pale ales, to its light beer to create a more full-flavored beer, she says.

Following industry accolades for the reformulation, the brand launched its Best Tasting Light campaign with actor Neil Patrick Harris to showcase the new flavor. This year, the brand extended the campaign to offer a money-back guarantee to show its confidence in Heineken Light.

In addition to new taste experiences, the Heineken brand is giving consumers a global experience through the extension of its Cities of the World packaging campaign. Last year, the brand released six special-edition bottles inspired by the popular global destinations New York, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai. This year’s program expanded to include New York, Las Vegas, Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Mexico City and Capetown. Designed to encourage consumers of legal drinking age to break out of their routines and discover the secrets of their cities, each bottle label features a print of one of the cities, the city’s name, and an enlarged Heineken red star, all on Heineken’s signature green glass bottle, the company says.

For an even more hands-on experience, Heineken also conducts social experiments that challenge consumers to get outside of their comfort zones in order to unlock exciting new experiences.  

“We feel our target has a legendary side, and if we offer [our consumers] these experiences, it’s a way to connect with them and to be able to not only give them an experience but also to show them what the Heineken brand is all about,” Parekh explains.

In its latest social experiment, “Convince Your Boss,” the brand promised fans a trip to a Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League (UCL) game in Barcelona if they leave that day and convince their bosses to come with them.  The social experiment is part of the brand’s #ChampiontheMatch digital campaign, which gives fans exclusive content, expert insights and live streaming of UCL games and events, Parkeh says.

Although these social experiments might only give a select few fans the chance to participate in once-in-a-lifetime experiences, Heineken and Heineken Light’s on-premise activations at music festivals and sporting events give all event attendees of legal drinking age the chance to interact with the brand.

At each event Heineken and Heineken Light sponsors, HEINEKEN USA sets up the Heineken House, which is slightly different at each event. “We always try to have the consumers be able to experience something new, whether that’s seeing a DJ they’ve never seen perform before or a DJ with a guitarist or a violinist, something that’s a little bit more of a mashup,” explains Pattie Falch, brand director of Heineken sponsorships and events, of the brands’ on-premise activations at music festivals.

All event activations also have a digital component so that fans can share the experience with their friends to further spread the word about the brands, Falch notes. For example, at Coachella in April, consumers had the opportunity to mix their own beats and share their music with friends, she says. At some sporting events, the brand creates a photo booth where fans can pose with oversized sporting equipment and share the photos with friends, she adds. “We’re really trying to integrate the onsite experience with the digital and the social to give consumers a full experience of what we have going on.”

 Through all of these activations and upcoming digital marketing campaigns, Tecate, Dos Equis, Strongbow and Heineken and Heineken Light expect to continue their growth, particularly as the new Heineken USA Chief Executive Officer Ronald den Elzen takes the company’s reigns July 1.