Thursday, 31 October 2013

'First Class' Heineken Is No Longer 'Chairman’ In Nigeria.

Heineken First Class wall drape ad at NET Tower
Heineken Beer in Nigeria has switched from its brand positioning statement ‘Chairman’ to ‘First Class’.

This occurred in 2012 coinciding with the introduction of its new bottle into the Nigerian beer market. A market that the Bismarck Rewane – led Financial Derivatives Company (FDC) 2013 report says continues to be attractive maintaining a steady growth of 9% annually over the past 10 years. The report attributes the growth to “increase in foreign investments, new production plants, rising disposable income, and changing consumption patterns”.

Heineken Chairman wall drape ad at NET Tower
In the days of ‘Chairman’, the brand made a bold statement in its marketing communications campaign including draping the wall of NET/NECOM Tower building, one of the most iconic buildings in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole. The wall drape advertisement which could be seen from many locations in Lagos was quite imposing and actually helped to position Heineken as the number one and preferred beer brand in Nigeria. 
Brand analysts and industry watchers believe the brand positioning worked wonders for the brand. By adopting and owning the phrase ‘Chairman’, a popular phrase commonly used in Nigeria to refer to a superior, a rich person, a boss or someone who occupies a higher position or a person that is of a much higher social, political and economic status, they were able to “kill two birds with one stone” as Nigerians would say.

On the one hand, the statement successfully appealed to the self-esteem and self-actualisation status (referred to in Nigeria as I have arrived syndrome) of the A, B, and C1 socio-economic group of beer drinkers, its primary targets. The positioning statement also penetrated the aspirational psyche of the C1, D and E socio-economic groups, many of who though could not regularly afford to buy but still identified with the brand’s unique positioning, made popular also by its sponsorship of the broadcast of the European Champions League football on T.V. The live broadcasts are well-received and appreciated in football loving Nigeria whose millions of football ‘crazy’ fans are ranked among the most passionate in the world. Heineken also leverages this sponsorship asset through activations at communal viewing centres, stadia, bars, hotels etc.   
The new positioning statement ‘First Class’ which has since replaced ‘Chairman’ on the wall of NET/NECOM Tower building is struggling to make an impact in Nigeria and may never achieve the mass appeal and iconic status ‘Chairman’ did, mainly because ‘First Class’ appears elitist and is not a popular expression and phrase commonly used in Nigeria. An attempt to deconstruct the new positioning statement points to the direction of a brand forcing itself, making too much effort and trying so hard to appear to be premium by making what many may consider an obvious, vain and off-putting statement. ‘Chairman’ was a smooth sail buoyed by mass appeal.

‘First Class’ in popular usage in Nigeria refers to first class flights and tickets. In rare and broader usage sense; it could mean an item made with highest quality materials. Heineken brand managers hope its many drinkers will easily transfer this attribute and associate same with the brand. Unfortunately, first class travel is not something many Nigerians aspire to, not with the many social, economic and political challenges they grapple with on a daily basis. Not also with the challenges facing Nigeria’s aviation sector which has made flying a not –so- pleasant experience irrespective of the seat class – economy, business or first.

There is also the issue of trust which essentially is a virtue Nigerians no longer easily dispense with having severally found themselves at the receiving ends of poor quality goods and services. It is common for service or product buyers to be greeted with pleas such as ‘Manage it so’ to complaints of poor quality goods and services.

There has been speculation locally that Heineken Europe influenced the switch in a bid to adopt a common global positioning statement as it was felt that ‘Chairman’ will not work in Europe or in other markets. An email enquiry to Nigerian Breweries PLC, brewers of Heineken in Nigeria for confirmation of this or further clarification did not yield any response.  

However, one wonders if indeed this may not be another classic case for a business to think global but act local, and also not to fix something that is not broken. If ‘Chairman’ was working magic for the Heineken brand in Nigeria, why change it to something else in the name of globalisation when a “glocalisation” strategy could suffice?

Perhaps in an act of defiance, a sample taken at a bar in Lekki Phase 1, one of the middle and higher income communities in Lagos showed that many still are not aware that Heineken has since shifted from being the ‘Chairman’ of all beers to the ‘First Class’ beer. Many of the respondents still referred to Heineken as Chairman.

It may seem that the opportunity has now presented itself for any ambitious beer brand in Nigeria to make a bold and audacious attempt to enter the supreme beer positioning space that Heineken conquered but chose to vacate.

The position of ‘Chairman’ of all beers in Nigeria is available again awaiting a new occupier. 

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