From two-friend brewery to international brand | With the Amstel Global Brand Director at Heineken - #BehindTheBrand

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Amstel is one of the largest beer brands in the international scene. Few will know, however, of its humble origins in 1870, and how it rose to such worldwide success.

Fast forward over a century later and Amstel now stands for friendship and bringing people together, a lovable personality that shines through the company's most recent brand campaign (further below). Amstel has many unique and recognisable features, from its premium quality to taste, and its approach to creative projects is rather interesting too: to reach out to different agencies, big or small, independent or owned, choosing the one that can deliver each project and exceed expectations.

Today we are getting Behind the Amstel Brand following a chat with Bernardo Spielmann, Amstel Global Brand Director at Heineken, who told us about the fascinating story of the Amstel brand below.


How was your brand born and what does it do?

Amstel is one of the largest international beer brands in the world. Our brand was born in 1870 in Amsterdam, first brewed by two friends who wanted to share a better quality beer. 

Both Amstel and the city of Amsterdam itself are named after the river Amstel, which flows through the city, and the brewery originally used water from the river as part of its brewing process and also to cool down the beer, thus ensuring a tasty and refreshing product.

Born from friendship, Amstel has always been the perfect refreshment for moments when friends come together, and over 150 years later it continues to serve that purpose. Always brewed to high quality standards, our beer has the perfect balance of taste and refreshment. 

What is one unique aspect of your brand?

I would argue that it is its timeless association with premium quality combined with a more flexible taste profile. Amstel is an instantly recognisable name, with European provenance and strong association to quality through our brewing processes and better ingredients, but differently than other Global brands, we embrace a more flexible approach, tailoring our recipe to address local preferences.  

This regionally orientated approach allows us to maximize local relevance and meet different needs.  A great example is our AMSTEL ULTRA proposition, it has a great refreshing taste combined with lower calories and carbs, which has been extremely successful in Mexico and is now quickly expanding to other markets.

Can you describe your brand’s personality in one sentence?

Amstel ultimately stands for friendship and bringing people together.  It was born in an inclusive and progressive city with an enduring spirit of togetherness, and it will always focus on brewing a better beer that helps to bring people and communities together. 

What was the biggest challenge for the growth of your brand?

Amstel is now sold in 115 markets around the world, but together with this broad expansion, we also saw the need to cater to a number of different expressions tailored to local needs. Whist this has afforded Amstel a fair amount of creative freedom when it has come to branding, positioning and communications, the challenges come with ensuring that the overall brand identity remains coherent and that we always remain true to our heritage. 

To address this, we have developed regional hubs where we can ensure a consistent positioning and communication focus in each of our key regions.  A great example is in South America (our fastest growing region), where we have successfully aligned all markets behind the same positioning and have been able to drive regional communications and activation behind the very relevant COPA LIBERTADORES football platform.

Which was the first huge success that you can remember?

Throughout the years, Amstel has had very successful campaigns reinforcing its role as a quality brand that brings people together.  I would highlight two campaigns that had a very positive impact in landing this positioning:

·      “In the Amstel tradition” (2006-09), which offered a humorous read of how Amstel friends had an impact in iconic moments through history (New WorldFloodTroy).

·      And more recently (2019-20), the Bridges campaign also helped to establish our “Everyone is Welkom” positioning in the UK. 

What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your brand in the next year?

Our biggest opportunity is to accelerate the roll out of our active lifestyle propositions, such as Amstel ULTRA®, Amstel ULTRA® Seltzer and Amstel 0.0.  

Consumers around the world have never been more aware of the importance of health and wellness. Finding the right balance between achieving our goals, staying healthy and taking time to enjoy the life we live, is a daily challenge, so we have developed these offerings  that can match their more balanced lifestyles.

Amstel is committed to providing consumers with options that fit the way they choose to live and this range has been crafted to complement healthy and balanced lifestyles without the need to sacrifice on quality or flavour.

The announcement of Rafa Nadal as our global ambassador for this Active Lifestyle range is a very important moment for the brand and we are incredibly excited about the opportunities his iconic status in the world of sport and beyond can bring. With him, we aim to expand the Amstel ULTRA® proposition into new markets globally, tapping into these emerging consumer trends. 

We feel that our brand-new campaign with Rafa, 'Choose Your Way to Live' really brings this to life and shows that no matter how busy you are, there is always time to find the balance that we all require. 

Do you work with an in-house creative team, an agency or both?

We don’t have an in-house creative team or an agency of record, instead we work with a pool of creative agency partners that can support us in different Global projects, and we evaluate the best fit on a project by project basis.  Our “Choose Your Way to Live” campaign was developed by the independent creative shop Hello_ from Mexico, which was also responsible for our previous Amstel Ultra Global campaign.

What do you look for in a creative agency?

A challenging mindset and the enthusiasm to make an impact with each project, independently of its size / scope. A strong strategy team is also important since it has a massive impact on how we land on the best creative routes, but probably the most critical element is the ability to set up collaborative environment where open communication and different perspectives can be combined to drive the high quality work.  

What is one tip you would give to other brands looking to grow?

Stay true to your brand’s ethos & values and always keep your consumers at the heart of your actions.  This is something that has worked very well for us, even with a more flexible approach to drive local relevance, we have always kept the spirit of Amsterdam and our focus in bringing people and communities together as core elements of our different campaigns across the world.

What is your current role about? Any ‘typical’ day?

As the Global Brand Director for the Amstel & Sol brands, it is safe to say I don't really have a 'typical day', as my role is multi-faceted – but that is quite exciting. 

I am responsible for setting the global growth strategies for these brands and driving their implementation in coordination with our markets.  These include a range of different Marketing activities such as setting long term ambition, defining the innovation agenda, developing Global & regional campaigns, securing Global partnerships and also supporting the launch of the brands in new markets.

But, probably the most exciting part of my role is the opportunity to learn from our colleagues and consumers from all different parts of the world.  In any given day, we might be reviewing consumer insights from our recent Amstel launch in China in the morning, while evaluating the potential of introducing some of our innovations in Europe or South Africa during the day, and engaging with our colleagues in Brazil at the end of the day to develop some of great brand activations. 

What’s your one big hope for the future of branding?

In my opinion, branding can only be truly impactful if there is a collective coherence across a few key strands of the business. Often, and I think this is more common than ever in the digital age, a brand's identity can be lost as it tries to cover too many bases and tell too many different stories. My hope is that more brands dare to apply more focus on their strongest, most valuable codes and apply them consistently and over a greater period of time, allowing consumers to really engage with the essence of a brand for a sustained period of time – which ultimately should lead to a stronger consumer connection and perception.  

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

I have recently started reading the “Digital Minimalism” book by Cal Newport, which brings interesting perspectives on how we all can be more focused on selecting how to leverage technology and social media to support things that are really important for each of us, while avoiding the general high dependency on all other but less relevant digital engagements.  This is special relevant in current times, when technology became an even bigger part of our daily lives. 


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