The beer category is usually associated with traditional masculine stereotypes but Tiger’s branding takes a modern and progressive view. WARC Asia Editor Rica Facundo speaks to Tiger’s Sean O'Donnell about how its marketing and sponsorship strategies adapt to changing cultural trends and values in Asia.

Sean O'Donnell

Sean O'Donnell, Global Brand Director, Tiger

Which societal, technological, business or policy issue has the biggest impact on your marketing strategy?

The markets that Tiger is competing and selling in have a younger adult consumer base and so their uptake of digital and social is incredibly fast. Consumers are highly engaged and crave experiences beyond traditional advertising.

It has become more important than ever to have marketing surround our target consumers with relevant communications on relevant platforms that enable them to connect with the passion points of our brand. One of the challenges for all marketers is how to cut through on these platforms.

One of the big social shifts is how the shape of “masculinity” or “manhood” is shifting in a world where gender roles are shifting. How do you see this manifesting in Asia and how does it impact the way your brand or the category speaks to men?

What’s interesting in Southeast Asia, unlike some other parts of the world, is that the consumers in the beer category are both male and female, so we’re expanding into mixed-gender drinking occasions, appealing to consumers who are looking for premium and modern beer experiences.

What we see is that the idea of masculinity is moving beyond the typical stereotypes. Across the region, consumers are moving to a much more modern and progressive view on masculinity. And that really links well with the Tiger Brand, which is all about having the boldness and the courage to pursue your passions, and links well to shared values of modernity and progressiveness.

Tiger’s brand positioning is about “Uncaging your inner Tiger” and challenging conventions, which is a bold space to be in because of underlying taboos and social norms underpinning these conventions. Any advice to brands on how to mitigate potential risks?

Historically, Asian culture has been very much about the collective versus the individual. So as a brand, when we talk about ‘uncaging your inner Tiger’, we’re not talking about rebellion. Rather, we are championing progress and the individuals who pursue their passions. If consumers pursue their passion, we want to show how it can also help move the collective forward. It’s a differentiated position vs the competition, which has led to great success for the brand.

What are the more modern depictions of masculinity you are seeing in the market?

Cultural trends are constantly changing including notions of masculinity. What we’re seeing in the markets that Tiger is operating in is a broader definition of masculinity, and a lot more openness about what this means and inclusivity around the different types.

A great example for us is our Tiger ambassador and South Korean football star Son Heung-Min. He had to defy the odds to get to where he is today. Son had to show courage, boldness and an inner toughness to break through as a footballer from Asia. But how he displays that is quite different from traditional masculine stereotypes. He is always smiling, he isn’t afraid to show emotion, he is open to feedback and incredibly humble – and fans love him for that.

It's quite different to how someone maybe 20 years ago would have gone on their journey. You still see those values of courage, strength, boldness, perseverance, but how you portray them and how you show them to others is now quite different as the notion of masculinity evolves. As a brand, we definitely look for those values in our partners and creators.

Why is this notion of shared values important, especially when it comes to sports sponsorships?

Brands should always consider the partnerships they are entering into carefully, ensuring that values are shared. At the HEINEKEN Company, we have a very thorough and responsible marketing code that guides us through our decision making and the partnerships that we enter into. It enables us to be focused not only on what’s good for our brands but for our consumers too, and how they'll perceive our partnerships with various sponsorships.

How is this different from traditional approaches to sponsorship, which has primarily been a logo-badging exercise?

In the past, it was traditionally all about getting your logo on the jersey. Now that has changed. The first critical thing we evaluate is whether this partnership or sponsorship opportunity is aligned not only with our brand values but what our consumers value too.

We look at how we can have impact and bring something of value to consumers beyond just seeing our logo at the game. Consumers are much more savvy around the world of advertising and sponsorship communications. They see through partnerships that don’t add value or aren’t seen as being truly authentic. It’s critical that we have a really open and honest conversation with our partners and ensure that they are on the same journey as us.

Aside from partnerships, are there any other ways that the brand is connecting with consumers, especially with live sports?

Live sports is an incredible platform for bringing communities together and supporting the team. This is still highly relevant for the beer category. For Tiger, it’s about how the brand can be part of consumers connecting, watching and celebrating the game. We see it as a really important platform and always look for ways to connect our brand with consumers beyond the actual game. We look to see how we can stay involved in the conversations around the game, which I believe will be a big part of the industry moving forward.

I was fortunate to go to the ASEAN games in Vietnam where Tiger was a partner. The live sports experience was not only at the stadium, with Tiger creating an immersive experience around the football match for 100,000 people who were watching the game on big screens in the center of Ho Chi Minh City. Tiger connected consumers to an incredible brand activation beyond the 90 minutes of the match, giving our consumers an experience beyond a traditional sponsorship relationship.