Amid COVID and changing consumer mindsets, Sean O’Donnell, Global Brand Director of Tiger Beer, speaks to WARC’s Gabey Goh for the Marketer’s Toolkit 2022 about how the beer brand has been tackling the impact of lockdowns with creative campaigns. 

Toolkit 2022

This interview is part of WARC's Marketer's Toolkit 2022. Read more.

Key insights

  • In a pandemic, brands have to make sure that when they do communicate, it is relevant, positive, inspiring for consumers.
  • Across APAC, digital change is constant and with the growth of e-commerce, the whole brand experience has gone digital.
  • Disruption to the world’s supply chain and significant changes in access to raw materials will impact everyone in marketing.
How are you adjusting to a start/stop economy, with the constant threat of rolling lockdowns and continued restrictions? How have your marketing strategies and objectives adapted to this ongoing state of volatility?

I think long term, we remain optimistic of the future. We've continued to plan on our long-term strategy and in implementing it but in the short term, the keyword has been flexibility adapting to COVID across APAC. We need to be flexible in our approach and that also means focusing on our big priorities. Adapting to the situation is critical whilst ensuring our longer-term plans stay relevant and achievable.

COVID has driven focus and made marketers realise that there's probably a lot of work being done previously that you don't really need to, so you need to focus on the priorities and what will move the dial.

Another challenge is that each market is going through COVID differently and it’s been about making sure we really understand the market and how it's impacting both our business, our consumers and customers.

We've had to adapt, particularly in the second six months of this year where it's all really been very restrictive in Asia with the Delta variant. It's been a huge learning curve for anyone in business.  For the Tiger global brand team, we're looking at the overarching global strategy and we spend a lot of time communicating more than ever with our operating companies and the marketing teams in each market because their situation changes daily.

Whilst I think we're not quite out of the woods yet in APAC, we are starting to see some positive signs that 2022 will be better across APAC.

Sean O’Donnell, Global Brand Director, Tiger Beer

Are you seeing any evidence that COVID has changed customer perceptions or sensitivities around advertising and have you had to change your communication tone and style to cater to that?

Consumer mindsets have definitely changed. When you're in a lockdown or if you're in a restricted situation, you need brands to be relevant for you. In stressful situations, we see that consumers default to strong brands because they have trust in them as they are strong quality brands.

We've had to ensure that our communication is relevant and sensitive to the challenges in each market. That's meant producing different content. It's also meant delaying some content that we had planned because it's just not relevant. Most of all, it's trying to understand the consumer situation and going “okay, if we are going to communicate, how does this benefit the consumer in some way?”.

For example, in 2020, Tiger launched the “Support our Streets” campaign during the first lockdowns in several markets that provided consumers the opportunity to buy vouchers at their favourite Tiger F&B establishments and in return, Tiger would provide them with additional value when the F&B reopened. This provided great value to consumers and income to our F&B customers during the lockdown.

Consumers have a lot of things to worry about right now, their own personal situation, their family situation and their financial situation. So as a brand, we need to make sure that when we do communicate, it's something that's going to be relevant, hopefully positive and inspiring for them.

We’ve had to be, again that word flexible, in how we react and work with each of the markets, even just in the production of content. The way we make content now is so different to how it was pre-COVID.

Also, consumption behaviours in Asia particularly have changed. As a region pre-COVID, a lot of our products were consumed out of home and in the on-premise environment – bars, restaurants, hawker centres etc and obviously the move to at home occasions has impacted our customers and our business significantly.

Can you share with us the current thinking around Tiger Beer’s positioning strategy?

Tiger has been a part of Singapore for a long time, since 1932 when it was first brewed, so we turn 90 years old next year (in the Year of the Tiger). The brand is part of the cultural fabric of Singapore and Malaysia as they are our home markets. Like many brands that have been in their home markets for a long time, they tend to be the biggest beer brand and therefore become a little bit mainstream given their size.  Why Tiger is such an amazing brand is you can have a Tiger Beer down at a local hawker centre in Singapore but you could also be flying business class on Singapore Airlines and be having a Tiger. It's a brand that defies conventions, which fits well with our global proposition “Brewed against the odds”.

Consumers globally see a lot of potential in the Tiger brand and particularly in our brand story about “Defying the odds”.  When we were first brewed in Singapore in 1932, all the world's best brewers at the time were in Europe and North America and they told the Tiger brewers it was impossible to brew great beer on the equator – the ingredients don’t grow on the equator and the hot temperature is not great for brewing great beer. Our Tiger brewers embraced the challenge and defied those conventions and brewed a world class tropical lager on the equator and since then, Tigers have gone on to win over 40 medals globally.

Having the courage to step forward and follow your own path by defying the odds is what we would call “Uncaging your Tiger” and this resonates a lot with consumers who themselves are challenged a lot to defy the odds in their personal success and ambition in life. We've been able to position the brand across Asia Pacific above local competitors because people see that the Tiger brand is world class quality with an inspiring brand story.

For many of our markets, the brand’s provenance from Singapore is also quite aspirational. Singapore's only a small country but it's very modern, very progressive. It's been one of the great growth stories in the Asia and Southeast Asia region for the last 60 years. All that combined helps Tiger’s positioning and allows us to sit in a premium positioning across the APAC region.

How about the brand’s reach and strategy for markets outside of its home region of Asia Pacific?

Tiger is currently sold in over 50 markets globally. Our focus has been the Asia Pacific region but more recently, we see great potential beyond APAC. We do sell in a number of European markets but it’s not really a focus for us at the moment.  European beer markets are super competitive and they're almost saturated with brands, so to be able to break through is quite difficult but we do have global expansion plans.

Our priorities are Africa and the Americas for several reasons. In those parts of the world, the beer markets are growing quickly and are very strong and importantly, our brand positioning of “Defying the odds” and “Uncaging your Tiger” resonates very well with the consumers in those markets.

Nigeria, which is a very big beer market, is currently Tiger’s biggest market outside of Asia Pacific. Tiger is currently the fastest growing beer brand in the Nigerian market at the moment.  In June this year, we launched in Brazil, one of the world's biggest beer markets, and that's really exciting. We see huge potential in Brazil and in the Americas.

Being from Asia, Tiger has a point of difference. Many of the competition we're up against are European or American beers and Tiger being from a different part of the world has a point of difference and a compelling story. Tiger’s brand look and feel is quite different to many other brands in the market, so we've been able to be more meaningful and stand out and be different in the category.

How has the company’s approach and investment into its digital brand experience evolved over the last two years?

Across Asia and Southeast Asia, digital change is constant and change moves so quick. In our markets, we see the growth of e-commerce and we're working with partners to ensure that as a brand, we are a part of that conversation in leading those discussions.

From a marketing perspective, the whole brand experience has gone digital and as a brand, we’re working with a number of partners to bring that experience to life and we're trialling a number of activities in different markets, working closely with our operating companies in each market.

Speed is crucial and the ability to test and learn. So start small and then scale up.

We're looking to be more innovative in how we connect with our consumers. For example, food is a very big part of Tiger Beer and a huge part of Asian culture. Beer and food go so well together in this part of the world. So in Malaysia, Tiger has activated Tiger Street Food campaigns for a number of years and in 2020, Tiger Malaysia took it online and created a virtual street food festival. That was hugely successful, created fantastic engagement for Tiger with consumers and won a number of creative awards.

Consumers were able to explore different vendors and order food directly to their home and obviously, Tiger Beer linked it all together.

Like a lot of brands, we’re experimenting in this space. We see it as a big growth opportunity, particularly with our target audience who are very digitally savvy.

How does Tiger Beer currently leverage the influencers/creator space in its marketing strategy?

Our parent company Heineken has a global policy around influencers and we're using influencers in different markets where we know that when you partner with good influencers and creators, Tiger can really cut through and be relevant. We're in the very early days of taking partnerships to the next level with this creative community but we see this as a big opportunity because as a brand, Tiger has always been creative in its communications.

What's really interesting for Tiger is next year, 2022, is the Lunar New Year of the Tiger, so that's pretty special year for the Tiger brand. So partnering with influencers in the creative community is a big part of what we see going forward into our Year of the Tiger campaign next year.

What metrics do you use when engaging with influencers or creators?

Globally, we have metrics in place and obviously as an alcohol brand, the first metrics we have is around audience and ensuring we are communicating with an adult audience. We also look at reach, impact and relevancy.

We have big plans for influencers and Tiger in 2022 for the Year of the Tiger. At a local level, we partner with local influencers, so for example in Vietnam and Malaysia, they'll have strong partnerships with influencers and depending on the market, they'll then have quite specific criteria.

We also look closely at credibility as well; the influencer needs to bring credibility for our brand and vice versa.

Has your thinking around new product development and launching new brands changed following COVID?

Innovation has always been a part of the Tiger brand. What we see is that consumers, particularly in Asia, are looking for a slightly different taste profile that's a little less bitter, so we launched Tiger Crystal, and it offers an easy drinking lager style that also allows us to position it as a more premium product with its communications, packaging and taste profile. 

That’s just the beginning of the innovation roadmap for Tiger, as we know consumer preferences are changing and people are looking for moderation in their alcohol products.

We also see flavours as an emerging trend. Taste profiles in Asia are really interesting. When you go to the hawker centres or the shopping malls and just the different types of beverages, you can get it’s quite amazing.  We've been quite successful with Tiger Radler in certain markets and we think that there's more potential in flavours across APAC.

When it comes to evaluating campaign effectiveness, what are the key metrics you use and how has this changed in the last year or two?

We know that the more creative brands are, the more successful they are because creativity breaks through with consumers and brings value to a brand. When you're more creative, people see it in a more positive light and Apple's an amazing example of that.

For us, the three key things that we want to measure first is meaningfulness. How meaningful is our creativity and our campaigns with our consumers? Is it differentiated, does it stand out from the crowd? And then most importantly, how creative is it. We use an internal evaluation document called the Heineken Creative Ladder and that's where we evaluate all our pieces of work against set criteria. It allows us to work with everyone in the business, to be able to evaluate our creativity.

In some ways, it's also not just what you say that makes you creative but particularly in this part of the world, also how you do it. Technology, particularly in Asia, is a key driver for creativity. If you look at many of the campaigns that have been creatively awarded across Asia, it's often the channel that is important and digital, mobile-first.

Could you also share a bit about Tiger Beer’s current packaging strategy?

We have an ambition as part of the Heineken Company Sustainability programme to make our packaging more sustainable. Less waste, so that the environmental impact can be minimised.  We are looking at everything from primary packaging, labels and our secondary packaging.

Our key packaging formats are the glass bottle and the can, and we are working with our partners on how we can be more sustainable without impacting the consumer experience or impacting our product quality. For example, taking weight out of a bottle doesn’t impact the consumer experience at all but the environmental impact from less glass is significant.

Can you share with us a few of the company’s sustainable strategic priorities?

Tiger is part of Heineken and this April we launched our 2030 Brew A Better World programme. It's a set of ambitious commitments that'll drive a positive impact on the environment, social sustainability and important for our category, responsible consumption.

Heineken has clear objectives and metrics as a company regarding sustainability, for example, aiming for carbon neutrality in our production by 2030 and in our full value chain by 2040. We want to have zero waste to landfill by 2025. We want to be able to have in every market two 0% alcohol options for our key brands by 2023.

As a brewer, Heineken will reduce our water impact in water stressed areas as we want to ensure that the water we use has as low an impact as possible.

How do you avoid “greenwashing” when articulating such sustainability efforts/commitments in your advertising and messaging?

We take greenwashing very seriously and always ensure any brand or company sustainability initiatives are communicated in a clear, honest and transparent way.

What is your outlook for 2022 and how are you preparing/planning ahead for it?

We are optimistic but I still think the first six months of 2022 could be challenging. A lot depends on external factors; we're relying on vaccination rates in all countries to grow.

We all thought 2020 was bad and 2021 would be better but things take time but as long as we see progress, that means we stay optimistic.

What will be your key areas of focus for the coming year?

We want to make the Year of the Tiger in 2022 “The Year of Tiger”. So our focus is on three priorities.

Firstly, we want to make 2022 a defining moment for the Tiger brand in all our markets. We’ll do this by communicating an inspiring Year of the Tiger brand platform that resonates with consumers using world class creativity.

Secondly, we want to share our Tiger brand story “Defying the odds” with more consumers, including our functional product story and the credentials of the Tiger brand, and building meaningful differentiation using our inspiring “Uncage your Tiger” positioning that drives consumers’ consideration for the brand when comparing it to other brands in our category.

And finally, innovation. We want to launch world class innovation in the Year of the Tiger.

What do you think will be the single biggest challenge that marketers from all industries and markets will need to grapple with in 2022?

The word I think about is disruption. Consumers’ lives have been totally turned upside down and massively disrupted, so their behaviours have changed. So how brands communicate and connect with them has been disrupted.

COVID has also disrupted the world’s supply chain and what we're seeing is significant changes in access to raw materials and it doesn't matter what category you're in, that's going to impact all of us in marketing.

We will continue to see significant change for at least the next 12 months from a global marketing perspective, particularly around how we make content, creating brand experiences and brand partnerships. For example, we've gone from making content on location to doing everything virtually now and it's a created a whole new way of working.

Disruption is the biggest challenge and how you react to that disruption and be able to adapt to it will be the key to success.