NEW YORK — With a newly installed CMO and big beer's first female CEO in the U.S. at the helm, Heineken hopes to quickly bounce back after an ad from earlier this year was perceived as racist and allegations of sexism were levied against the company for its treatment of female beer promoters. Heading into the summer, Heineken is taking a light, fun-focused approach to its marketing while also laying the groundwork for a more inclusive positioning.
Earlier this week, the beer brand announced a new CEO to lead Heineken USA. Maggie Timoney will succeed Ronald den Elzen, who will relocate to the brand's Netherlands headquarters. Timoney comes from within the global Heineken family, most recently serving as CEO of Heineken Ireland, though she's worked in several international offices for the brand since 1998. Her appointment comes just eight weeks after Jonnie Cahill started as the chief marketing officer of Heineken USA. Irish born, Cahill joins the American team from the brand's global commerce leadership department in Amsterdam. Before that, he served as the CMO of Heineken Russia.
"We're really trying to reinforce our world view, which is 'life is better when you step beyond your boundaries and try stuff,' and when you roll with it a bit and embrace spontaneity," Cahill told Marketing Dive in an interview conducted at a press event on Wednesday. "At the same time, we want to remind people that it's a great product, it's a great brand and it's just a great beer."
A strong legacy
The ad that drew negative attention online and the loss of the brand's partnership with international health organization Global Fund were a far fall for Heineken. Just last year, the company was lauded for a commercial that showed people with vastly different backgrounds and opposing opinions finding common ground over a series of tasks and, of course, sharing a cold beer. That spot, "Worlds Apart," was particularly notable because it was a stark contrast to the now infamous Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner, which debuted around the same time.
While Heineken may have missed the mark with more recent marketing efforts, Cahill said that learning from experimentation is key to informing future campaigns and enhancing brand authenticity.
"We have a legacy of hundreds of years of world-class advertising. Nobody bats a thousand. You don't have perfect stuff every moment for 157 years," Cahill said. "But whether you're a third-generation Irish guy in Boston, or Haitian or a Polish person in North Illinois, we're a global brand that's bringing things in that are part of your DNA," Cahill said, in reference to the brand's focus on what unites fellow beer-drinkers.
Strategy outweighs leadership
The brand's global emphasis is reflected in its recent leadership shuffle, Cahill told Marketing Dive.
"There's a cadence to every business. Authentically, it's not a choreographed series of moves," the executive said. "We are the world's most international beer company, and you'll see that nationality and gender diversity in our management teams. It's because we believe that sending different types of people works for our business, and we try to embed that world view straight from the top."
Before heading the brand's American marketing team, Cahill was the CMO of Heineken Russia and the lessons learned there could help guide efforts to make the broader team more grounded.
"We have a strong global brand so we understand each other because we all come from different parts of the company. Yes it's disruptive, but we're all connected by Heineken," Cahill said. "The upside of these swap-outs is, of course, that it brings a lot of new energy, a lot of optimism, a lot of hustle. We're here to do things."
Despite the installation of a new CEO, CMO and head of supply chain and logistics in quick succession, the core ideas that drive the brand's marketing remain the same, Cahill insisted.
"Whether I'm the guy or you're in charge, it doesn't really matter. If the strategy makes sense and it's authentic and it's going to deliver growth, then it should work. Brilliant strategy will endure."