Behind Heineken’s Telethon Of Love And Beer

In the name of creative exploration (and love) your humble correspondent participates in a massive romance-themed social media/live online video/event/app experiment from Heineken.

Behind Heineken’s Telethon Of Love And Beer

When Heineken launched its Serenade app this month, its intention was simple–enable as many shy types as possible to ask the object of their affection out on a V-Day date in bombastic style. But building an app is one thing; getting people to use it is another. So to promote the app, rather than doing something predictable, Heineken hosted a nine-hour, online event where chosen couples could have a specially written serenade performed for them by Paul “Kiss” Kissaun, the charismatic bandleader from Heineken’s spot “The Date.” Romantic propositions broadcast live on the Internet? What could possibly go wrong?


Curious to know what goes into a telethon of love and beer, Co.Create decided to find out more. So, I fired up Skype in the name of research and subjected my unwitting significant other to the Serenade Live experience.

Here’s how it worked: Weeks before the Serenade Live event fans submitted requests over Facebook or Twitter to have a song written in their honor (Co.Create was given a last-minute spot in the lineup). Once chosen, the date-asker shared some specific details that would be used as the basis of a propositional love song, to be written by creatives at Heineken’s agency, Wieden + Kennedy. The two would-be lovebirds then connected by Skype with the Heineken Live crew, hosted by Welsh TV celeb Gethin Jones, before being serenaded live by Kiss and the band.

Turns out, many things went right with what could have been a technological and sociological disaster. An adorable couple confessed to mutual secret crushes; an adoring chef copped to keeping a credit card receipt of a girl he fancied; a girl proposed to her man; a Greek pop star caused a flurry of tweets with his charming send-up; I lost an impromptu game of rock, paper, scissors to my guy; and the band played for nine long hours (when the band finally exited stage left it was 4 a.m. Amsterdam time, where the event was filmed). Of the 45 couples from around the world to be serenaded, there were more dates made than rejected and only one date-asker flamed out in spectacular fashion: when one guy was asked out by his brother’s ex-girl, his answer was an emphatic (and oh so awkward) “N.O.!” (which sadly seems to be removed from YouTube… it’s for the best, really). In all, over 350,000 people watched the live event from countries as varied as Bulgaria, India, Jamaica, Iceland, USA, Poland, Italy, Taiwan, and Canada.

Sandrine Huijgen, Heineken’s global communication manager, says the idea for both the app and Serenade Live was rooted in helping spawn dates, and the recognition that there was a special chemistry with the band, cast originally for the “Date” spot. “We thought, let’s do serenades for as many people as we can. Let’s try to find really cool dating situations and we’ll make different combinations so we make sure it feels personalized,” she says of the app, which boasts 640 ways to please your lover in 20 languages. “While doing this we also felt it would be really great if there were a few people around the world who would have the chance to have their own song created just for them.” This desire to capture the tender emotions of asking someone out led to the live event. Plus, she says, “We just love the band and the song [Jaan Pehechaan Ho] in the ad.”

The potential to create a real emotional connection represented something particularly intriguing for the creative team at Wieden + Kennedy. “You can interact with advertising, but chances to live in the advertising a bit are fewer and far between,” says W+K executive creative director Mark Bernath. While instantaneous, social media, he says, allows for a more considered reaction. “The live event kind of brought it back into the real world a little bit because the reaction time was immediate and you saw people’s real excitement.”

Also exciting: producing a live event. Where another marketer may have run some banner ads and perhaps a few quick-hit spots to publicize their app, Heineken decided to venture into that unknown territory. “Now that we’ve done it we know it’s the right thing to do, but we did ask ourselves if we could actually do it,” says Huijgen, the morning after. “We knew we could use that money to pay for advertising for the app. Or we could do something that’s never been done before that’s much more exciting and is a challenge. We chose that one.”


W+K executive creative director Eric Quennoy credits the live production company Infostrada/CMI with keeping the elaborate show on track. “It was a massive learning curve for us–you realize the detail that goes into it. The big thing was to get a vendor that knew live TV.”

While most of the show was necessarily planned out (most serenades were written well in advance and the band was familiar with over 50 arrangements of the song, from disco to reggae to ballads), Quennoy says there was room for on-the-fly creativity. When host Gethin Jones–an accomplished violinist, athlete and actor–revealed his love for the Welsh rugby team, the W+K team whipped up a song that Jones then played on violin. Similarly, when tweets started rolling in, they were compiled into spontaneous song.

Since its launch, and bolstered by this unique event, over 500,000 date invites have been sent with the Serenade app, a success by Heineken’s measures. Which begs the question: Will we be seeing more of the inimitable Kiss and the Serenades?

“It’s our ambition is to continue to find genuine ways to connect with our consumers,” says Huijgen. “Touching people’s lives and concretely helping them be more the type of man they aspire to be, that’s certainly what we want to continue doing, more than ever after last night. But our motto with WK is to be consistently unexpected, so maybe we should something completely different.”

For now, says Bernath, “I think we just made the longest ad of all time.”

About the author

Rae Ann Fera is a writer with Co.Create whose specialty is covering the media, marketing, creative advertising, digital technology and design fields. She was formerly the editor of ad industry publication Boards and has written for Huffington Post and Marketing Magazine.