We recently caught up with Pablo Chabot, Marketing Director of Heineken Malaysia, to discuss the effects of the pandemic on the industry and the transition to a more virtual world.
Chabot previously served as the Marketing Manager for Heineken in China and as the company’s Brand Manager in the Netherlands before making the jump to Malaysia.
In his current role, he’s most recently overseen the launch of the Tiger Street Food Festival, an immersive campaign where Malaysians were able to enjoy the experiences of their much-loved street food culture from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
The Tiger Street Food Festival recently launched virtually, could you talk about the concept behind it and what went into launching it?
As a beer born on the streets of Asia, Tiger Beer has, for a while, been the beer of choice to enjoy with Asian street food. Most years in Malaysia we host a large-scale street food festival – with games, activities, live performances and, of course, street food and Tiger Beer.
This year, that obviously wouldn’t be possible. But we knew our consumers still had an appetite for street food.
We saw that when we launched ‘Tiger Save Our Street Food’ back in May, where tens of thousands of Malaysians joined us to help our hawkers and coffee shops struggling through the lockdown.
As the year progressed, it became clear that things wouldn’t be getting back to normal for a while. We didn’t want to let our consumers – or the street food vendors who look forward to participating each year – down, so we began to explore how we could still bring the food festival experience to life in a socially-distanced world.
“A food festival is about so much more than just the food. That’s what brings you there, but it’s the overall experience that people were missing the most.”
There have been plenty of online ‘events’ and festivals in the past 9 months, but live-streamed video content alone isn’t particularly engaging or novel anymore. There are also many food delivery services, so we had to offer more than just a way to order food online while watching some videos.
A food festival is about so much more than just the food. That’s what brings you there, but it’s the overall experience that people were missing the most. Walking around, checking out what various vendors have to offer, playing games and joining in on activities – and even watching live performances.
“We spent around 5 months creating this from the ground up – nobody had done something like this before.”
So in addition to making sure we had a huge selection of great, authentic street food from some of the best vendors Malaysia has to offer (more than 80 across the four weekends of the festival), we really focused on replicating everything else about the experience, in a fully-immersive 3D world.
We spent around 5 months creating this from the ground up – nobody had done something like this before. We didn’t even know if it would be possible when we started. But everybody working on it really believed in the idea, and that’s what kept us going. It’s really all down to the hard work and late nights of everyone involved that we were able to make this happen.
How prominent do you think virtual events will be in the future once the pandemic has passed?
Even before the pandemic, it was clear that we were all living in an increasingly-online world. As technology improves, it makes it easier for us to connect with each other, as well as for brands to connect with consumers. Even with physical events becoming possible again, I think there will always be a place for virtual events in the future – we shouldn’t just look at them as a back-up plan.
How has COVID-19 affected your overall marketing strategy and what challenges have you had to overcome?
We’ve become even more intentional with our spending, really making sure that every cent we spend is going towards meeting our business objectives. That doesn’t mean we can’t still do great, creative work – just that it’s now even more important to show its impact.
Other than that, we’ve had to become more flexible. We’ve adopted an agile methodology, allowing us to make changes to react to rapidly-developing situations. As our brands are primarily enjoyed out-of-home, small changes in SOPs can lead to planned campaigns and messaging having to pivot to a new direction overnight.
You were the Heineken Marketing Manager in China before making your way to Malaysia. What are some of the similarities and differences between working in the two regions?
Different: Totally different social ecosystems, with a different media/digital landscape, leading to the lines between ecomm and brand experience being more blurred in China. Another difference is that Chinese consumers are always looking for something new, the next trend. Malaysians care about this too, but they’re also very passionate about existing brands. Our brands have been part of people’s lives here for such a long time, so there are layers of history and shared experience alongside the innovations and new categories we’ve launched – like Low/No Alcohol with Heineken® 0.0.
Similar: The role of beer in consumers’ lives and how it acts as both a social lubricant and a means of celebration, and the associated preference for out of home consumption (in normal times). Another similarity is the eagerness of consumers for brand experiences and events, whether those are in person – or increasingly, now online.
What advice would you give to brands wanting to resonate with Malaysian consumers that is distinctive to that market?
Stay close to real consumer insights, be sensitive to changes in the current external environment, and don’t ignore the data.
What are some campaigns you’ve done that you’re most proud of?
In recent years, we’ve orchestrated some great campaigns in Malaysia, most notably ‘Save Our Street Food’ and the ‘Heineken 0.0 Launch‘. Previously, I loved the ‘F1 Thrill Beyond the Track‘ and ‘The Orange Experience’ campaigns.