It’s Heineken’s world, and we just lived in it for an afternoon

Like many an Amsterdam resident, having never been to the Heineken Experience was a point of pride for me: Oh, I’ve never been to that overpriced tourist trap, I’d say with an ever-so-slightly upturned lip.

But then I went, and I have to say, I’m glad I did.

My parents have been here visiting for a while. That is to say: they’re tourists. They’ve been taking it easy, and just relaxing, but they’ve also been hitting up some museums and restaurants. Tourist stuff, as you do when you’re a tourist.

Then when my dad offered to take me to the Heineken Experience I realized there would never be a more opportune time for me to see what all those line-ups are for. A trip to the Heineken Museum together would:

  • Be a perfect father-son activity, containing as it does inbuilt cultural-educational drinking
  • Allow me to see the museum, but retain some ‘cred’ – “Oh yeah, I went once – but with my dad,” I’d explain, “He was on holiday.”

So win-win, right there.

Experience the experience!
And then we went and learned – in an interactive, fully sensory-immersive way – how Heineken became the brand it is. Part of the way Heineken became the brand it is is through creating exhibits like the Heineken Experience.

They called them ‘smiling e’s’ and now I do too

Of course, there are other reasons why Heineken is so well-known and respected, including its distinctive golden colour, and the crisp refreshing finish. Of course, there’s also the special proprietary yeast… oh and the look: the red star and the ‘smiling e’s’ in the logo (introduced by Freddy Heineken), and yeah… (he wrote, sighing dreamily, as he reflected upon his experience, and then continued in a slightly Stepfordian way), Heineken is amazing.

The brand ambassador factory
As you can tell, I paid attention. And as you can tell – in my case – the result of all that attention paid is being turned out the other side, after a couple of hours of Heineken-centric fun, as a knowledgeable brand ambassador. Whether you want to be or not, you are.

That bugs me. I’m not into commerciality, or unpaid shilling – especially for a global megabrand. But I know when I’ve been outmaneuvered. And thinking back to the ten minutes I sat in the incredibly cozy lounge and watched Heineken commercials (to cite one of about 43 examples), I can certainly not say otherwise.

But I was outmaneuvered in such a pleasant way (and while I was mildly buzzed) so I’m much less upset about it than I would otherwise be.

Me and my dad, putting our glasses away

And at the same time, I have real respect for the exhibit they’ve created. It’s engaging, pacy and fun. The staff are upbeat, the system is efficient, and the multimedia presentations are top quality. Plus they’ve got horses.

If valuable advertising is about getting eyeballs on your logo, then the H.E. would be a substantial asset – since I saw almost nothing but different iterations of the logo, while being steeped in brand history and lore, for almost two hours. That’s the kind of attention companies would pay huge sums for. But it doesn’t cost them anything – quite the opposite in fact – especially when you factor in all the Heineken merchandise they move out of the gift shop once people have had hours of .

Basically, they’re geniuses. Because even though I was aware of the underlying psychological processes as they happened, I had a really enjoyable time. Not everyone comes out of the H.E. sharing my enthusiasm, but everybody who was there when my dad and I were sure seemed to love it.

Besides it’s hard to stay mad at an institution that is such an important part of The Netherlands history and development, and continues to play a strong role in the advancement of the arts and sciences here.

Hang on a second.

Did I just write such a patent endorsement of the company in their own brand language, as if quoting from the brand hymn book? Yep, sure did; one trip to the Heineken Experience and I’ve lost all sense of objectivity and perspective.

Well played you guys.

Well. Played.