Monday, February 16, 2009

The New Heineken Experience - Amsterdam

So how does a brand, which is recognized worldwide, reengage its consumers and reinvent its story? The US-based BRC Imagination Arts, one of the world's leaders in experiential marketing, has developed the New Heineken Experience – an interactive journey through the history of the brand and the brewing process. The experience is housed in the former Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam.

The sweet smell of barley mash, water and foam spritz down on visitors' heads as they watch a film about fermentation, as seen from the perspective of beer. Next up: the tasting.

No wonder they call this the "Heineken Experience."

One of Amsterdam's most popular attractions among young adults, the Experience has reopened after a year of renovations.

Long gone are the days when the tour, located on the site of Heineken's former brewery in Amsterdam, and was a way to drink unlimited amounts of the "golden cheer". The new Experience updates its offerings with several high-tech exhibits targeting the "YouTube" where visitors can perform karaoke and instantly send a video clip of the event by e-mail to their friends.

The remodelled version lives up to its name, a cross between corporate museum and a chance to achieve bliss with one of the world's most-recognized beer brands.

Though for cynics the Experience may feel like one long ad, for those who love the beer, it's "a pilgrimage," says Bob Rogers, a branding expert who advised Heineken on the museum's renovations. "We wanted to bring back the connection with beer-making, and the histories of Heineken, to help people see it, touch it, taste it," he says.

The tour begins with a short film designed to praise Heineken's history, in which the word "quality" is mentioned a dozen or more times.

It gets better from there.

After wandering through historical Heineken artefacts', visitors are offered a chance to see and touch barley and hops, two of the main ingredients of beer. Next they enter a stylish Art Deco hall filled with massive copper brewing kettles where an actor plays the part of master brewer, explaining the brewing process while stirring a steaming cauldron full of "wort", the mash that is mixed with yeast before beer is fermented. Along the way, visitors are initiated into some of the secrets of Heineken. For instance, Heineken uses its own proprietary strain of yeast, the beer equivalent of Coca Cola's secret formula or Kentucky Fried Chicken's secret recipe.

But the halfway mark is what visitors came for; they are offered their first taste of the holy Heineken itself. A bartender demonstrates how to tap a beer properly -- a head of foam keeps a beer at its best -- and gives helpful tips on tasting.

There are homage's to the advertising savvy that made Heineken the second most popular imported beer in the North America, including one room full of nostalgic Heineken posters. Another room is lit with green lights and outfitted with futuristic reclining chairs where visitors can relax and view the Heineken television ads of years past.

At the end of the tour comes -- what else? -- A bar stocked entirely with Heineken.

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