Cannes Lions

Back the Bars


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Heineken is a global beer brand with a symbiotic relationship to the on-trade. As bars closed due to Covid-19 lockdowns, beer volumes fell by 19.4% and net profits fell by a staggering 75.8% in 2020. Whilst many brands cut spending, Heineken realized that communicating was crucial not just to survive the pandemic but to emerge stronger on the other side. Our task was twofold. Firstly, to keep Heineken top of mind throughout the crisis and secondly to support bars, keeping the bar owners’ trust with the brand alive.


One big idea: Back The Bars. Four different executions and different touchpoints that brought it to life. The first was the Back The Bars film to remind people not to forget their favorite bars. The second was Book A Beer, a digital platform that allowed people to buy a beer now and enjoy it once bars reopen. Shutter Ads was the next, turning bar shutters into media spaces and vital support for the same bars and finally Back To The Bars, a film that celebrates the new normal ways in which we now greet, cheers and socialize.


As shown by Professor Sharp and the Ehrenberg-Bass institute, when brands don’t communicate, their equity wanes. Well, we thought…doesn’t this apply to bars too? The longer the on-trade stayed closed, the more people would inevitably change their habits and forget about the bars they frequented pre-lockdown. Research from McKinsey confirmed the severity of the problem: 75% of people would emerge from the pandemic with different habits. Heineken couldn’t just offer bars financial support. It needed to help bars stay relevant and top of mind throughout the entirety of the pandemic. To save bars, remember them. #BackTheBars


Four phases spread across the entirety of the pandemic. The first phase was a film that reminded people not to forget about bars in the early panic stage of the pandemic. But there was still no way for them to generate income and Heineken to be sold on-trade. Phase 2, before bars could re-open, was a digital platform that allowed people to buy a beer now and enjoy it once bars reopen. With the streets still empty and media space wasted, Heineken turning bar shutters into media spaces, redirecting €7.5 million of OOH budget to 5000 bars across 6 countries in phase 3. As lockdown restrictions eased, the final phase was Back To The Bars; a film that celebrates the new ways in which we greet and cheers, encouraging people to socialize responsibly so that bars can continue to stay open.


Impressions of the campaign totaled over 299 million. Shutter Ads inspired other brands in our portfolio - as well as our competitors! - to launch similar initiatives, helping even more bars. Even more importantly, every single bar involved survived. When bars opened again in 2021, our efforts to increase trust paid off. Confidentiality agreements prevent us from sharing commercial results per market, but we are able to share results for from Argentina. Following the campaign, bars purchased 42% more hectolitres of Heineken than they had pre-pandemic in 2019. What’s more, 854 more on-trade outlets chose to serve Heineken in 2021. These results were clearly correlated with an increase in trust in Heineken: on-trade partners were 4.9% more satisfied with Heineken in 2021 versus 2019.

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