Heineken’s Mark van Iterson wants to make responsible drinking sexy and is looking to design for inspiration


Since Heineken founder Gerard Adriaan Heineken made the brand design choice to shirk the trend of using brown bottles for the now iconic green, the 150 year-old brewer has aimed to set itself apart through a progressive attitude towards design.

Fast forward to 2015 and Heineken’s design focus has shifted to consuming alcohol in moderation. The beer brand wants to promote responsible drinking to its consumers in a “cool or sexy” way and is hoping that a new approach to design in nightclubs and bars will help make this message tangible.

Next week during the Cannes Lions Festival Heineken will kick start a new project called Talent Lab, which will give upcoming talent in five developing markets – Bulgaria, Greece, Nigeria, The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Vietnam – the chance to submit their ideas to make responsible drinking attractive.

Speaking to The Drum Heineken global head of design Mark van Iterson explained the thinking behind the lab. “At the moment we are doing quite a lot of communication [around responsible drinking] … that’s very important but it’s communication, it’s image building.

“Now, we said let’s try to make it tangible and focus on the point of consumption and indeed see if we can use these very tangible ideas to really stimulate moderate consumption.”

One example, offered van Iterson, could wrap around the insight that when you hold your drink in your hand all evening you drink more than you would if it was placed on a table.

“In a busy bar or club people don’t tend to put their bottle of beer down because they all look very similar and if you lose sight [of it] you might worry that someone has put something in it. So if we can come up with a solution, for example a shelf or cupboard with different shapes or colours where you can remember which one is yours, that might be an example of a design aid that stimulates the behaviour of drinking less.”

The initiative, which is part of Open Design Explorations, Heineken’s larger ambition to redesign the future of nightlife drinking, is just one piece of work that the brand is rolling out as it looks to protect alcohol drinking at a time when the spotlight on unhealthy consumption has never been brighter.

“We take that responsibility very seriously,” continued van Iterson. “In the end it guarantees that we can sustain our business in beer; so we always try to be ahead of legislation, we take our responsibility in that area and we are genuine about it.

“Of course we want to sell beer, and we want to sell a lot of beer, but in the end if people are binge drinking it will limit our business in the long term tremendously so we want to be an advocate of drinking beer but in a responsible, moderate way.”

Speaking about the portfolio of brands at Heineken in a wider sense, which includes Bulmers, Strongbow and Desperados, van Iterson said that one aspect of design that “keeps us awake” is trying to conceive a new vessel for beer outside of the cans, bottles and kegs that have been used for hundreds of years in the category.

“Beer brands have for the past century been selling bottles, cans and kegs; but I think if there is one brand that can create the breakthrough innovation for the next century that is Heineken. I don’t have the ready solution yet in front of me but it is our constant drive, it is what keeps us awake. Beer is a traditional category and there is beauty in that but at the same time you shouldn’t rest on your laurels.”

Keen to always differentiate in the crowded beer market Heineken has recently introduced a new can design which van Iterson dubbed the “groovy can”, and compared its innovation to that of the keg-shaped can the brand first introduced in 1999. The new can features embossed detailing or grooves which van Iterson described as “amazingly beautiful”.

“The keg-shape can, from a brand design point of view, lacked a bit of progressiveness and we wanted to re-do that. The embossing and the design [of the new can] gives a very different experience.”

Van Iterson was keen to keep other upcoming work under wraps but hinted that there would be activations around the new James Bond film which is due for release later in the year.