Is Heinz having what we in the biz might call a ‘Burger King moment’? That question popped up within the LBB editorial team back in March. Almost every week, a fun new Heinz campaign would appear from Spain, Canada, Dubai, the UK, Brazil, Turkey… and as we looked back we saw a steady drumbeat of playful activations, campaigns and PR stunts over the past three or four years. From tattoo inks and AI stunts to plantable labels and mausoleum pop ups, the work has been varied, unexpected and unmistakably Heinz.
As that drumbeat became more intense, we started to wonder if something was in the water at Kraft Heinz, and, in particular, at its iconic Heinz brand. On June 1st, that momentum of local and regional work crested, with a huge ATL global campaign, 'It Has to Be Heinz'. It marks the first time in the brand’s 150-year history that it’s been united under one global creative strategy. Created by Wieden + Kennedy New York, directed by Camille Summers-Valli and produced by Love Song, the warm-hearted campaign celebrates people’s love for the brand and showcases fan stories about the lengths they go to, from getting tattoos to smuggling sachets in their handbags.
According to Megan Lang, head of Heinz brand communications, North America, the roots of the new global platform comes from the intersection of a core Heinz brand truth and a globally-resonant, near universal consumer truth.
“If you study the history of the brand, it’s apparent that Heinz has always gone to irrational lengths to make the absolute best food products in the world. As our founder famously said, 'to do a common thing uncommonly well brings success',” says Megan. “As we looked to unite the brand under one global platform, listening to our fans revealed that because Heinz products are made with such care and obsession, people show their love for the brand in irrational ways – from Heinz tattoos, to carrying condiment packets in purses, to smuggling tins of Heinz Beanz in suitcases through airport security, and more.”
Says Will Binder, creative director at Wieden + Kennedy, there was a real outpouring of stories during the creative development. “We started out with the goal to tell “true or could-be-true” stories of people’s obsessions with Heinz products. We quickly learned that the world is full of instances of irrational love for Heinz,” he says. “Once we started to dig into this phenomenon, the more these stories began to flow. This big launch film is just the start; we can’t wait to continue to shine a spotlight on them.”
Megan says the creative is “an ode to our fans and their incredible support over the last 150 years, celebrating and humanising the love affair between the brand and its fans”.
The timing of this new global campaign is pivotal, and reflects the business’s ambition - and a belief that creativity combined with insight will be the key to realising that ambition. “Kraft Heinz’s ambition is to lead the future of food, and Heinz’s new creative platform is the latest example of Kraft Heinz’s marketing and creative evolution – a critical driver of the company’s ongoing transformation,” explains Megan. “We continue to identify ownable brand and product truths that resonate with its consumers, restoring a proud culture that celebrates the DNA of its iconic brands while leaning into scale and agility to make great ideas travel around the world.
“Built on this ethos, we saw an opportunity to take the Heinz brand to the next level and set it up to help usher in the next wave of global growth,” continues Megan. “We have big ambitions to grow the Heinz brand and business over the next 10 years – Heinz will be one of the leading forces of growth for Kraft Heinz at large, both now and in the long term.”
The ambitions for the global campaign can’t be understated - and the acceleration of eye-catching creative at a local and regional level over the past three or four years has created a runway to help this new platform truly fly. “All our local campaigns are built on true consumer insights that have ultimately come together to inspire this one big global campaign - a true love song back to our fans!” says Thiago Rapp, head of Heinz brand communications, international.
Thiago also confirms that the worldwide creative flourishing has been no accident, and says that it reflects a transformation of Kraft Heinz’s internal culture. That culture has seen it prioritise creativity and data - and empower and entrust partner agencies. “Yes, [it’s] very intentional!” he says. “A large part of the Kraft Heinz transformation has been building a culture of creativity - one that uses real-time insights to move at the speed of culture, and surprise and delight our consumers along the way.”
A World of Creativity
Start diving into the work from local markets, and there’s a clear thread between the local activity and this new global campaign. For example, in April, SOKO in Brazil launched ‘Heinz Tattoo Ink’
, a red ink created using non-harmful ingredients - and that insight that superfans really do get Heinz tattoos is also reflected in the global campaign. Wherever you go in the world, the same patterns pop up: a preference for Heinz products and an enthusiasm for the brand and a subset of true-believer fans that go the extra mile. But, of course, those broader truths come with local flavour.
For the team at Wunderman Thompson Turkey, which has been working with Heinz since 2021, the fact that the brand has those colossal global insights and yet is embraced locally is a creative gift.
“While Heinz is seen by marketeers as a global and iconic brand, for the consumer it represents flavour on the table. This is how Heinz became the foodies’ choice locally as well as globally, gaining a unique place in the daily habits,” says Didem Ozcibir, client services director at Wunderman Thompson Turkey. “Irrespective of the rich diversity in food cultures across nations, taste emerges as the unifying element that transcends boundaries and becomes universal. In the Turkish market, we encounter similar insights when the taste of the product is also superior and unmistakable. We wouldn't miss the opportunity to create ideas around a brand that is so universally loved."
The strength of the Heinz personality and role also means that it not only withstands adaptation for local cultures, but to thrive. Perhaps the best example of this is 'The Unstainable Thobe
', created by Wunderman Thompson Dubai. We’ve all experienced the an errant blob of ketchup landing on our clothes - and in countries like Dubai and Saudi Arabia, where the pristine white robe the thobe is often worn, a bright red splodge could prove to be a fashion disaster. And so the team created a wipe-clean version of this iconic garment.
A strong brand with a good heritage is one thing, but that alone won’t guarantee consistent creativity across continents. Curiously, similar to the model Burger King operated under ex-CMO Fernando Machado, the marketing team is not locked into one holding company or network. There’s also the in-house creative agency, The Kitchen, adding some homegrown flavour to the creative mix. That’s not to say that the local work in different markets feels disconnected. Quite the opposite - by cherry picking the most aligned creative partners, there’s a ping-pong of synchronous ideas around the globe. For example, the same month that Canadian Rethink launched its campaign exposing restaurant owners for faking their Heinz ketchup, Wunderman Thompson Turkey offered up a helpful colour chart so that diners can spot when they’re being defrauded
And we’re not the only one to draw that flattering comparison between the current Heinz clients and Burger King in its heyday under Fernando Machado. It’s something that Federico Fanti, CCO at FP7 McCann in Dubai - the agency behind this year’s ingenious ‘Ketchup & Down’ double-ended bottle and a celebratory, fan favourite World Cup ‘Heinzjack’ - has noticed, particularly regarding the belief in creativity.
“There is no brave idea without a brave client. Take Fernando Machado, the former global chief marketing officer at Burger King. Fernando was able to create great work because he knows and drives creativity even more and better than many of the advertisers in our industry: that’s a blessing for a creative agency, because you can speak the same language with a client who wants to push the creative boundaries as much as we do, and the ambition is reflected in the work,” says Federico.
“Here in the Middle East we are lucky to work with a client who has the same ambition and therefore treats us as partners and not suppliers (believe me, this is not very common). Our regional clients understand our knowhow, they believe in our expertise and they are as excited as we are to make something disruptive that drives their brand."
Mike Dubrick, chief creative officer and partner at Rethink, has an idea why we’re seeing this global consistency, too. “I think we’re seeing the power of creativity not only to influence the hearts and minds of consumers, but of marketers as well. Kraft Heinz’s culture of creativity is thriving,” he says. “And looking at the brand with a global lens is helping to drive that. The recent 'Ketchup Fraud' campaign for example - this idea was born in North America, but it’s an insight that resonates around the world.”
According to Mike, behind Heinz's current momentum and flow is a mutual understanding between brand and agency. He perceives that the sense of trust and appreciation of creativity runs deep within the marketing team. “We have aligned goals and collectively feel that powerful creative ideas that break into pop-culture not only solidifies the iconic status of the brand, but also leads to powerful business results,” says Mike. “Kraft Heinz has really become a culture of creativity and that has created a strong relationship based on trust and shared values.”
That feeling of alignment is echoed by Heinz’s other agency partners, including Wunderman Thompson Spain, who have been working with Heinz for three years. They've been working with them to launch Heinz brand pasta sauces in the British market, with a 'ridiculously late' angle
, which has allowed them to pop up with reactive executions around events like the England win at the UEFA Women's Euros
. They recently helped launch the Absolut Vodka pasta sauce in the UK with a retro recipe revival from Gigi Hadid
“We think of Heinz as a partner,” says Paco Badia, executive creative director at Wunderman Thompson Spain. “Having a good relationship with the marketing team has allowed us going beyond the briefing, influencing even in the product conceptualization. Although sometimes it’s hard to get the support needed to develop some projects, Heinz is always open for bigger and better creative ideas.”
It’s All About You
But it’s not just a commitment to creativity that’s driving the work, customer-centricity comes up again and again as a theme.
Speaking to LBB back in 2021, Luana Sá in Brazil laid that out. “Our premise is to place the consumer at the centre of their strategic decisions, whether in their products or in their actions. It is essential to always keep in mind that all product launches, marketing actions and campaigns are made for real people, for consumers with needs that also change according to the context,” she said.
Didem Ozcibir at Wunderman Thompson Turkey agrees with this sentiment. “One of the key drivers behind Heinz's creativity is the customer-centric approach. It keeps track of evolving consumer tastes, demands, and lifestyles. In addition, Heinz's collaborative, and inclusive culture fosters creativity. The brand’s values and diverse perspectives encourage employees and business partners to think outside the box, embracing new possibilities and pushing boundaries to deliver inspiring work across various countries,” she says. “At Wunderman Thompson, our creative culture aligns with this brand perspective and this synergy fosters remarkable work that showcases our dedication to end-to-end experiences.”
Indeed, Federico Fanti notes that Heinz’s understanding of what people want, and putting that first, in turn generates more entertaining, resonant creative. During the FIFA World Cup, the team realised that fans were tired of being sold to and told what to do by the official sponsors, and so created a piece of entertainment instead, whereby they found a fan who was actually called Heinz and made him the voice of Heinz Arabia during the competition. “We took our advertising hats off for a moment, and thought about the brand on a human level. How can Heinz relate to people? Well, how about by literally being a person? To our delight, we found that there are thousands of people named Heinz around the world. And so, the Heinzjack was born,” reflects Federico.
Similarly the design-centric Heinz 'Ketch-Up & Down' - a bottle that opens at the top and bottom - came not from trying to be outlandish for the sake of it, but from understanding how consumers use the product.
“You’ll notice that it’s based on a fan truth – people still store our upside down bottle, upright. And that defeats the very purpose of the product. So we had to think of a second solution. The fact that the double lid of the Heinz Ketch-Up & Down bottle gave fans a foolproof way to store and squeeze their ketchup, really turned heads in a humorous manner while also giving ketchup fans something to think about,” he says. And the idea landed, generating 49,000 engagements and over five million views in the first week.
“It's really about listening to people, speaking their language,” he says. “Not talking to them, but conversing with them makes all the difference.”
Heinz’s Secret Sauce
Drilling into the creative work and speaking to both the team at Heinz and their partners around the world, keys to the current hit rate are fourfold. There’s a cultural transformation that puts creativity at the heart, a deep connection with consumers based on real time insights, and a clear and well-defined brand that can bear a bit of playfulness and localisation. And, finally, there’s the collaborative and open relationships they have with their agency partners around the world.
“We agree something special is happening across the globe for Heinz!” sums up Megan Lang. “We attribute a big part of the magic to the larger transformation happening at Kraft Heinz - where creativity and marketing are a driving force of the impressive turnaround of many of our iconic brands. As Kraft Heinz leans into creativity and culture to reach its broader ambition to be the best marketer in the world, a key part of that is doubling down on our company value of being “consumer obsessed” - and in turn, creating communication that is grounded in the intersection of a deep consumer understanding and our brand truth(s).
“Furthermore, we have to credit the incredible partnership we have with our agencies around the world. It takes a village, and our agency partners are true extensions of our team – we trust them and know they are just as proud stewards and owners of the brand as we are.”
And so this new global push represents a culmination of all that has gone before, between Heinz and its collaborators, between Heinz and its consumers.
“I’m hoping this campaign ultimately strengthens the relationships we already have with our fans, and, as a creative platform, allows us to be closer to all consumers by celebrating the love stories we share with our products and the brand,” says Thiago, who sees it as an idea that can unite fans and all of the creative that has come before it.
“I would love for someone at home to see themselves in the creative, maybe stealing a jar of Ketchup from room service or sneaking packs into their purse, and say “That’s me!”. I want our fans to feel seen by our brand and to know they are part of a larger, global group of Heinz lovers who all do these weird and wonderful things for their favourite products. “