Armed with 10 years of marketing, brewing, distilling and construction experience, Tony Wheeler, a senior marketing manager at DB Breweries, is bound for Japan to take up the role of general manager of Heineken Kirin.
In the role, he will lead Heineken as a sponsor of the Rugby World Cup and set up for next year's Olympics.
Heineken, which owns DB's parent company, Asia Pacific Breweries, is a natural next step for Wheeler as he's had 10 years with DB delivering beer to the local market.
He started as a retail insights manager before moving his way up, to national retail activation manager, brands manager for DB Export, marketing manager for DB Export and finally senior marketing manager.
Prior to joining DB, Wheeler was a senior client service executive at Nielsen and coming from an analytics base, he says he’s always had an interest in marketing and how it can be driven by insights.
“For me, it was always what’s the insight and how do you build the ideas around that. I always wanted to get into marketing and build ideas around the insights.”
With DB’s focus being on the beer category, unlike multiple categories like he’d worked with at Nielsen, Wheeler says it was the perfect opportunity to marry marketing and insights.
“To be on beer and get to understand that category and those consumers and what drives them was exciting.”
One of those customer insights he’s drawn on while at DB is the value of sustainability and how the brand can add meaning to its customers’ lives.
Created with Colenso BBDO, the ‘Brewtroleum’ campaign sold the idea of drinking beer to save the planet by using yeast left over from the brewing of DB Export to make a biofuel.
It was a massive six months of research and development and saw Gull stations sell 300,000 litres of biofuel made from 58,000 litres of yeast slurry.
Working to create a biofuel from yeast isn’t the typical job of a marketer and when asked if his CV now includes a sidebar of science expertise, Wheeler laughs, saying he knows more than your average consumer market.
“I’m still no expert but I understand how to make a biofuel, work with the distiller, know the level of distillation and the grade etc.”
Similarly, he knows a lot about glass after DB moved its plant-saving strategy to making sand from its glass bottles.
Again, with the help of Colenso BBDO, it built machines to turn empty bottles of DB Export into sand substitutes. The idea was that sand would be a supplement for sand and solve the problem of retreating beaches.
Looking back at his time at DB, it’s not only skills in distilling and construction he’s added to his belt, but also the importance of creating an experience for its customers.
“It’s about creating the experience not just about selling beer is the key thing I’ve learned,” he says.
“It’s about how we can leave someone with a long-term experience.”
One highlight he’s had in doing this is the Tui ‘Catch a Million’ competition.
It saw four cricket spectators claim a $50,000 prize for catching a six with one hand while wearing the Tui t-shirt.
Wheeler was involved in the activation of the campaign and says it was great to get people so engaged in the idea and then see the excitement of the people who made the catch.
Unfortunately for Tui, the competition was scrapped last year amid safety concerns.
Having had the experience of engaging a sporting audience with a product, Wheeler is well-positioned to help the Heineken team deliver on its partnership with the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.
He’s also got directly transferrable experience, having worked with Heineken during the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
At the time he was DB’s national retail activation manager and says it was magic to bring Heineken into the rugby occasion.
“If you were to walk into a Countdown, the entire store would be green for Heineken,” he says.
It’s this idea of owning the event he will take as a lesson for Japan.
Sean O’Donnell, director of marketing for DB Breweries, says Wheeler’s move to Japan is a testament to his immense talent and brilliant career.
“The award-winning campaigns he has been part of while at DB have tapped into those salient Kiwi themes of sustainability, ingenuity, and simply enjoying a drink with a mate. His ability to appeal to consumer consciousness is impressive.”
O’Donnell adds Wheeler is the fourth person that DB has sent to Asia in as many months and having the global giant of Heineken is a great opportunity for it people to go overseas.
“I love seeing our people land these roles on the world stage and am really looking forward to seeing what Tony does in Japan. Maybe he’ll even invite me into the corporate box come October.”