Case Study: HEINEKEN uses the cloud to reach 10.5 million consumers in global marketing campaign

“Nobody does it better” than secret agent James Bond. So it was natural that when world-class brewer HEINEKEN launched a global marketing campaign, it would partner with the Bond franchise. And when that campaign needed an equally first-class cloud platform, HEINEKEN turned to Microsoft Azure. HEINEKEN then used Azure for promotions that were even more technically demanding, including one with the UEFA Champions League. Azure “put our stakeholders at ease,” says an executive.

Business Needs

When James Bond is on the scene, the fate of the world often lies in the balance. When HEINEKEN decided to launch a global marketing campaign based on the latest Bond movie, the stakes were also high.

HEINEKEN, which sells its flagship premium beer in 178 countries, has long run innovative marketing campaigns around the world. Along with great beer, it’s part of what makes Heineken one of the world’s best-known brands. But the 2012 campaign, based on the Bond movie Skyfall, was different than what HEINEKEN had done before. Traditionally, its marketing operation had been fairly decentralized. The campaigns might have been global, but how they were implemented was not. Those decisions had been largely left to the company’s scores of national and regional marketing divisions. Rollout dates, for example, were left to the divisions and, consequently, global campaigns could be launched gradually over a period of months.

But HEINEKEN had been centralizing its marketing functions for several years. For the Bond promotion, it planned to launch the campaign at the same time everywhere on the planet. That created unprecedented challenges for HEINEKEN—nowhere more so than in its technology operation. The primary digital content for the campaign was a 100-megabyte movie that had to play flawlessly for millions of viewers worldwide. After all, Bond never fails. No one was going to tolerate a technology failure that might bruise his brand.

Previously, HEINEKEN had supported digital media at its outsourced datacenter. But that datacenter lacked the computing resources HEINEKEN needed, and building them—especially to support peak traffic that would total millions of simultaneous hits—would have been both time-consuming and expensive. Nor would it have provided the geographic reach that HEINEKEN needed to minimize latency worldwide.

Solution

The cloud was the way to go—but which cloud? HEINEKEN looked at Amazon Web Services—and chose Microsoft Azure. “With Azure, we didn’t have to invest in managing servers, so we could focus on delivering the most successful campaign,” says Ewout Barendregt, Global Center of Excellence Manager at HEINEKEN. To help deliver that successful campaign, the company used the Azure Content Delivery Network to make the digital content available quickly, reliably, and globally to 10.5 million consumers.

The next year, HEINEKEN faced a digital marketing challenge that was in some ways even greater. This time, HEINEKEN based a global campaign on UEFA Champions League (UCL) soccer games. The campaign would launch simultaneously in more than 70 markets and 30 languages. But although the Skyfall campaign had “merely” required the company to host a giant website to serve content, the UCL campaign would require real-time computing on a global scale.

That’s because the centerpiece of the UCL campaign was a pinball game for consumers to play live against players anywhere in the world. The solution would also have to support multiple leaderboards for each player, based on the number of friends and family that an individual played with. It would require real-time updating of the leaderboards as play was underway. HEINEKEN wanted the technology to support 1 million simultaneous users. And, in the words of Lennart Boorsma, Digital Marketing Manager at HEINEKEN, “It couldn’t fail.”

To meet these requirements, HEINEKEN expanded its use of Azure from one datacenter to four—one each in Europe and Asia, and two in the US—gaining geo-redundancy and low latency. Data was stored in Azure Table Storage for asynchronous updates. The storage was structured with 10,000 partitions—up from 10 initially—for the requisite scalability. HEINEKEN developed the solution using Microsoft Visual Studio 2013. The architecture was tested with a Visual Studio load-testing cluster to generate the load and test the application without testing the Internet. Microsoft Services consultants helped develop and load-test the solution, and resolve performance issues.

The results of this solution (see below) led HEINEKEN to use Azure again, in yet another way, for its Open Your City campaign. In this campaign, consumers interact with HEINEKEN through Twitter and other social media to get suggestions on “socially hot” clubs and bars located near them at any given moment.

“Given the success of these campaigns, we now use Microsoft cloud services beyond marketing,” says Boorsma, citing Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online for customer relationship management and Office 365 for increased employee productivity.

Benefits

HEINEKEN has used Azure in three global campaigns, supporting millions of users, minimizing latency, and laying the foundation for significant cost savings.

Scales to 2 Million Gameplays per Hour
HEINEKEN used Microsoft Azure to achieve 100 percent reliability on a massive scale. The platform exceeded its service-level agreement with perfect performance in the UCL campaign, supporting 2 million gameplays per hour and with capacity for more than 40 million players in all.

“Azure didn’t let us down,” says Boorsma. “More than that, it gave us a way to assure senior management that we could support this massive, global campaign. It put our stakeholders at ease, knowing that we had them covered. When you bring out a global campaign with such bravura, you really do need to make sure that all your homework is done. With Azure, it was. Thank you, Microsoft.”

Delivers Latency of 200–300 Milliseconds
HEINEKEN also met its requirements for low latency worldwide with Azure. Latency rates ranged from 7 milliseconds to 535 milliseconds, with typical rates clustering between 200 and 300 milliseconds. That was a tremendous benefit for global, real-time game-playing. As a result, players enjoyed their experiences and continued playing for an average of 4.5 minutes.

“Latency is something that players shouldn’t even have to think about,” says Barendregt. “Thanks to Azure, it wasn’t an issue. That was an important factor keeping people on the site and in the game. When you consider we had 5.2 million players during the run of the campaign, that comes to 55 years of brand engagement—an insane number.”

Provides Reliability, Savings, Flexibility
Boorsma expects that HEINEKEN will make more use of Azure, both for marketing campaigns and other purposes. For example, Azure could play a role in the company’s website upgrade.

“We will definitely continue to use Azure,” says Boorsma. “We need the reliability it gives us. We can also envision using Azure to avoid the costs of building and maintaining additional datacenters around the world. We could use Azure as part of a hybrid solution with our existing resources. It gives us tremendous flexibility.”