Heineken CMO on the $100 million launch of low-cal Silver variety

New ads, millions of samples are part of a “full-court press” to take on Michelob Ultra.

Heineken CMO on the $100 million launch of low-cal Silver variety

Heineken USA will spend more than $100 million on marketing this year for Heineken Silver, the Dutch brewer’s low-calorie, low-carb lager that recently launched in the U.S. The sizable investment comes as the brewer seeks growth in a fast-rising segment that has been dominated by Michelob Ultra, but has attracted newcomers—including Bud Light Next and Modelo Oro—that are seeking to lure health-conscious drinkers.

“It’s an incredible amount of spending for a new brand just coming out of the gate,” said Benj Steinman, president of Beer Marketer’s Insights, an industry newsletter.

Silver officially launched in the U.S. last week. The brand’s first campaign is meant to “rewrite culture’s most bitter endings, past and present,” according to Erica Roberts, chief creative officer of Publicis Groupe's BBH USA.

The BBH USA work was built in partnership with Publicis’ global relationship with Heineken through the creative agency Le Pub. In addition to TV ads, BBH is producing out-of-home, digital and social assets for the launch and partnerships with events including Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Formula 1 races.

Jonnie Cahill, chief marketing officer of Heineken USA, described Heineken Silver as a “modern and positive” take on light beer. Heineken Silver has 4% alcohol by volume, 3.2 grams of carbs and 95 calories in a 12-oz. serving, making it a competitor to AB InBev’s Michelob Ultra (95 calories, 2.6 carbs and 4.2%ABV). Bud Light Next, introduced in 2022, has 80 calories, 4% ABV and zero carbs. Modelo Oro, a line extension of Constellation Brands' Modelo that debuted nationally this year, has 90 calories, 4% ABV and 3 carbs.

“I think Silver is really appealing to the volume heart of the of the U.S. beer market, where we’ve seen this trend toward colder, lighter, lower calories and lower carbs, and Heineken Silver delivers on all of those things,” Cahill said. “This is a reimagining of what Heineken Light might have been back in the past, but brewed specifically for U.S. consumers to really give them something that represents what people are drinking today.”

Heineken Light, which will continue to be sold, has 99 calories, 3.3% ABV and 6.8 carbs. 

Conscious lifestyles

Cahill said health and wellness trends, including a desire to have a “conscious lifestyle,” are driving consumer interest in lower calorie, lower carb beers, as well as the company’s alcohol-free Heineken 0.0. Drinkers are pursuing lighter, colder and more refreshing beers, he added.

“People are seeking out refreshment and lightness,” he said. “When we talk to people about what they don’t want from beer, it’s that heaviness and bloating; that comes up all the time. So I think there’s a megatrend around not only wellness, and to an extent, moderation, but just consciousness.”

Of Michelob Ultra, Cahill said, “you have to be respectful of your competitors and that was a very successful play for them off what is a light and easy-to-drink beverage. And that’s where the trends are going. We wanted to access that part of the market, but do it in a Heineken way, which is with the ‘premiumness’ you would expect, with the refreshment and taste and quality that you’d expect … and we want to have a little bit of fun while doing it. So it’s a full-court press to really bring the best of the brand, and a product that is right for today's U.S. consumer together.”

Cahill said the push on Silver includes transitioning sports sponsorships from Heineken to Heineken Silver for 14 Major League Soccer clubs, the NFL's Miami Dolphins, NHL’s New York Islanders as well as the U.S. Open tennis tournament. In November, Heineken Silver will be the title sponsor of the Las Vegas Grand Prix, one of the year’s most anticipated sporting events.

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Millions of samples

“Formula One is about the race, but it’s also about the socializing, the parties, the energy, the magic of it,” Cahill said. Sampling at that event and others will be key, Cahill said, adding that the brand will serve millions of samples this year.

“We have a very old-fashioned marketing belief: If people try us, they’re in. So we’re going to help them see us and we’re going to help them try it,” he said.

Heineken Silver comes to the U.S. having debuted four years ago in Vietnam and expanded to Europe last year. The brewing process cools the beer to 1 degree Celsius, promoting a fresh taste without a bitter finish, Cahill said.

Innovation in products such as Silver and the non-alcohol 0.0 have been good for the Heineken franchise, Cahill said, saying he doesn’t anticipate Silver to cannibalize Heineken.

“Good innovation is almost always great for your franchise,” Cahill said. “And while we do see different types of people drinking original [Heineken] and Silver it's also an occasionality play. … You might want to [drink] Heineken original with your colleagues after work. But you might want a Heineken Silver if you’re playing golf with your colleagues.

“And we do believe in the halo effect because we've seen it with Heineken Zero. It was incredibly good for equity. It was incredibly good for incremental penetration,” Cahill added. “And it was good for the franchise because you were doing something that was appreciated.”

Heineken has U.S. market share of around 3%, according to Steinman. But Cahill said consumer regard for the brand is considerably higher, giving the company confidence Silver has plenty of opportunity to succeed.

“Way more people love our brand relative to our market share,” Cahill said “And this is an opportunity to close that gap.”