While most beer companies use sponsorship to drive sales, Heineken has taken a much different approach to the marketing medium.

Wanting to add music to its sports-centric portfolio (UEFA Champions League, Rugby World Cup, etc.), the brewer in 2014 entered the EDM waters with a partnership with Dutch DJ Armin van Buuren.

The goal of the partnership: to encourage clubbers to dance more and drink slow.

The effort paid off: “Save My Night”—a song written by the DJ to promote responsible drinking—reached number one in 27 countries.

The partnership also has helped influence behavior. Heineken asks event promoters to play the song while taking a break from alcohol sales. The company sponsors more than 4,000 events each year ranging from high-profile music festivals (Coachella, Ultra, etc.) to local club events.

“You immediately think that doesn’t make commercial sense, but it does. People want to go to bars where people have fun, and clubs have been happy to oblige,” said Hans Erik Tuijt, Heineken International global activation director, speaking at IEG 2015.

Global popularity of EDM drives music platform
As an international brand, Heineken was challenged to find an entry point in music given the range of music preferences around the world.

That thinking changed with the global phenomenon of EDM.

“Until EDM came up, dance music was very local. EDM is massive around the world. We thought maybe that’s the way to go.”

While the popularity of EDM is undisputed, the music genre has one major drawback: an association with MDMA. The drug—commonly known as Molly—was linked to two deaths at the 2014 Electric Zoo festival in New York City.

“That’s the kind of thing that traditionally kills any marketing program. That’s not a space where CEOs and CMOs want to enter.” 

Undaunted, Heineken took a different look at EDM and the genre’s association with excessive consumption, with the goal of putting a new spin on the topic.

“If we can make a difference, we can crack the code. How can we make moderation big and cool in this industry?”

Heineken knew it faced an uphill battle. While the company uses a billboard at Champions League matches to promote its “Enjoy Responsibly” message, the message has failed to gain traction despite reaching millions of consumers.   

“More than one hundred million people have seen the board, but it hasn’t changed their behavior. They said ‘I know you have to do the politically right thing.’ People don’t believe a brand like Heineken will say drink less.”

After scouting the EDM landscape, Heineken identified van Buuren as a potential partner. While Heineken has historically shied away from celebrity endorsers, the musician’s credentials prompted the company to take a closer look.

“Armin is described as the ideal son-in-law. He’s married, has two kids, and his behavior is impeccable. We decided to break our own rules and do something different.”

Heineken asked the artist to write a song that promotes the importance of paced drinking. Van Buuren’s manager initially declined, but the DJ interjected.

“Armin said he has a responsibility as a DJ. DJ’s are criticized that they’ll do anything and let anything happen. He wants to take responsibility as an ambassador for EDM.”

Heineken last year allocated 10 percent of its advertising budget on a marketing campaign that promoted the “dance more, drink slow” message. The company doubled down on the campaign during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, both of which represent times of the year for excessive alcohol consumption.