Fancy a beer? How about a virtual one? Heineken have become one of the latest brands to join the rapidly expanding collection of big-name brands with a footprint in the metaverse with the launch of ‘Heineken Silver’ – the world’s first Virtual Beer.
Swapping out hops for pixels, Heineken unveiled their new beverage in mid-March at their Virtual Brewery on the metaverse platform Decentraaland. You could forgive those who attended the virtual launch for feeling a little thirsty back in the real world – however, they didn’t need to wait long for Heineken to launch ‘the world’s first ‘in real life’ metaverse bar’.
With an attitude towards the metaverse as refreshing as their latest beer, Heineken took an ironic and self-aware approach to their metaverse launch, resulting in close to two billion impressions . They then backed this up with an unforgettable real-world experience. We pulled up a bar stool and spoke with Rob van Griensven, Global Digital Director at Heineken about taking full advantage of the metaverse and delivering a seamless digital and physical experience for their audience. Sit back, relax, and grab yourself a (virtual) beer as you learn how they did it!
The world’s first ‘virtual beer’
As an early adopter of the metaverse, it was an unexpected step for Heineken to take. On face value, it does not make sense for a Beverage brand to launch a virtual bar. You cannot, at least to our knowledge, drink pixels. Indeed, in the Heineken Silver Area on Decentraaland, nothing can be purchased. However, Heineken Silver – with a less bitter and more refreshing taste – is targeted at Gen Z, with this Target Audience increasingly spending time together in metaverse worlds such as Decentraaland, Roblox, and Sandbox.
“Knowing that the beer was more to the pallet of Gen Z, our marketing strategy was leveraging the metaverse. In our research, but also from conversations with our colleagues and people working at partners of Heineken, we found that this generation go the metaverse as a place where they can have fun and more sociable experiences online. Before the availability of the of the physical product, they were already able to experience Heineken Silver in a more immersive way in than ever before.” – Rob van Griensven, Global Digital Director, Heineken
Credible, relevant, distinctive: The holy trinity
Heineken also felt that many brands who had previously jumped on the metaverse bandwagon did so as a symbol of progressiveness that was not necessarily in keeping with their brand.
“Every good brand should connect the holy trinity between being credible, relevant, and distinctive. And I think in the initial stages of the Metaverse, many brands were focusing on being distinctive to distinguish themselves from competitors but were not always very credible or relevant in this space. They were simply seeking to label themselves as forward thinking rather than adding anything specific to their customer’s experience.”
Pick a metaverse, any metaverse
The first step was for Heineken to choose the right platform and utilize it in a way that allowed them to stay true to their brand. First and foremost, as a provider of beer, they were extremely cognizant of engaging with an age-appropriate community and required a platform that could enforce age restrictions. They wanted to embrace the metaverse marketing trend in a careful way.
“As an alcohol brand, we always need to be careful that we are not engaging with consumers that we shouldn’t be communicating or engaging with. For instance, a metaverse world like Roblox was completely off limits because you get children on the platform. It was not the right space to be in. There’s also some other metaverse worlds like Sandbox which have a bit more of a childish visual identity, and we wanted to be on a visually mature platform to reflect what our audience would expect from a virtual bar.”
The ultimate choice for Heineken was to host their Virtual Bar on the 3D Virtual Platform Decentraaland. Decentraaland puts age restrictions in place for certain content and offers a more mature platform that has been in development since 2015 and has already hosted brands such as Samsung and Adidas. Through careful planning Heineken were able to pick the perfect platform to meet their target audience in a virtual setting. They also needed to build the Virtual Bar itself. Keen to avoid being just another brand adding nothing credible nor relevant to their customers, Heineken sought the expertise of agencies and publicists who could guide them to the right platform and help them build it.
“Within our trusted partners we have creative agencies like Publicis, Isobar (Dentsu), and Boomerang that are actively involved in the metaverse and Web3 initiatives. Alongside our own qualitative research, they helped us understand the right tone of voice to make something cool. Simply adding some brand stickers in a metaverse world wouldn’t have been enough to activate our brand; we needed to create an environment that added to the experience of our customers.”
A unique metaverse marketing strategy
As such, Heineken had to think carefully about their strategy. They had built a fantastic environment where their audience could meet. Complete with a DJ, dancing, and of course the virtual beer, it embraced the metaverse and reflected Heineken’s long-established ethos of progressiveness and innovation; but almost any other brand on the metaverse could stake a similar claim. That doesn’t typify distinctiveness. So, Heineken embrace the playful part of their brand.
“For Heineken it was all about not taking ourselves too seriously. The metaverse is a trend that has a more serious side. So, Heineken took the approach of embracing the ironic side. Especially in the metaverse, humor and sarcasm play a significant role. Our plan from the inception was a self-aware joke to say we’re launching a virtual beer, but it’s impossible to drink a virtual beer.”
“This allowed us to shift our goals towards delivering a unique experience for our customers and creating a conversation about it. As an early mover in the metaverse, it was going to be tricky to assess which indicators of success we should be tapping into, especially as platforms like Decentraaland inherently do not have a lot of centralized intel or information on visitors or users. Instead, we elected to focus the primary aim of the metaverse launch of Heineken Silver on bringing people together.”
Making some noise
Laughing at themselves and taking this novel approach allowed Heineken to also benefit from a substantial Media and PR impact that was another core KPI of this campaign, which reached close to two billion impressions through media relations, social media and influencers. With the physical iteration of this campaign to follow, it was vital that Heineken could use their metaverse launch to generate as much media and influencer interest as possible. The key to this was to embrace local contributors and influencers.
“A lot of our individual markets were able to activate things around the Decentraaland area that we created locally. For instance, our colleagues in Spain engaged with a famous local musician who made a video clip that captured her dancing in our area.”
Blending the customer’s physical and digital experience
Heineken’s plan was never to keep Heineken Silver as a virtual beer. Behind the metaverse launch was the plan to deliver a physical campaign that blended seamlessly with the virtual. They worked to create a physical experience that was as reminiscent of the virtual launch as possible.
“We collaborated with an artist, J Demsky, who’s renowned for his graffiti, to tie in with our target audience. He worked on the style visuals and helped us to develop certain parts of our silver area in Decentraaland. He then went on to help us create The FRT’s (For Real Tokens), which were our playful take on NFT’s but for the physical world – another example of our approach of challenging ‘fakeness’ to embrace authentic moments. We also included digital fashion pieces. It was like a digital museum that brought metaverse aesthetic to the physical world. We deployed the campaign in several phases from the initial tease to the physical launch, so the virtual beer could move into real life.”
“Every local market did it a bit differently. In London, the initial entrance of the physical event was like you were in a metaverse bar and people could play with VR headsets. In Milan, by showing a certain QR code on your phone, a physical beer can would appear and that would be your token to enter the party. We worked together with the content creators that collaborated with us in the earlier stage of the campaign. We invited them to the events alongside important people from our customer base.”
This created a seamless experience across the virtual and physical mediums for consumers of Heineken Silver. By delivering a self-aware approach in both contexts, Heineken continued to appear playful and could deliver an authentic, meaningful experience for their audience. Crucially, they went on to create a personalized experience for various locations across Europe that replicated the tailored experience they had in the metaverse. It allowed them to engage with their audience on the metaverse in an authentic way that reflected their brand values and create a unique experience for that audience in the process.
“We reconnected with the consumers that had already engaged with us in the virtual world. We also leverage the same content creators we had used in the metaverse. Bringing the visual identity that we created in the metaverse to an event was vital to recognizability, awareness, and conversion. Seeing what they have encountered on the metaverse or heard about on social media at the point of purchase creates a logical step to help the consumer on their path to purchase.”
What’s next for Heineken’s metaverse marketing strategy?
This was a first move into the metaverse for Heineken. By not taking the platform too seriously, the campaign has been an extremely useful stress test for a world that many executives within an organization like Heineken are not familiar with.
“We’ve seen the benefit of not taking yourself too seriously. It’s a lesson for more senior stakeholders in large corporations like Heineken to loosen up a bit and to delegate the trust to people that are less experienced in the corporate branding world, but more experienced in the metaverse.”
Having successfully delivered authentic experiences for customers in the metaverse and physical worlds alike, the task for Heineken Silver is now about replicating this for future campaigns.
“As mentioned, we had to assess whether our first step into the metaverse was credible, relevant, and distinctive. As a brand, moving forward, we will need to redo that exercise each time. We realized this by creating a playful interaction between the virtual and the physical, and that will certainly be a crucial element moving forward. Here we were poking fun of ourselves to start with a virtual beer launch and then moving it to the real world; in the future, why not do it the other way around, and bring something from the physical world, like a big music event, to the metaverse in a unique way?”
Heineken will continue aligning their digital and metaverse strategy with their brand personality, never taking themselves too seriously. Crucially, they will also aim to blend the digital elements of their campaign with the physical to continue creating authentic opportunities for their customers to share a beer, whether it’s in a real-life glass, or a digital bottle.
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