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Heineken’s Story Engine

By Mike Bonifer 4 years ago
Home  /  Game  /  Heineken’s Story Engine

This is a great example of how a game can work as a story engine for a brand. And why it’s important to distinguish between the objective of a process and its outcomes.

In 2013, Heineken, ostensibly to shake up the same old tedious job interview process, documented a playful, highly original process for interviewing and selecting a new Summer Intern for its Sponsorship team. Designed by Heineken’s brand team in collaboration with Publicis in Milan, the job interview process was, structurally, a game.

A hybrid of game show, hidden camera commercial, reality TV, and improv comedy, it put unwitting job candidates through four ‘tests,’ each test narrowing the original field of 1,734 candidates, with employees in Heineken’s marketing division invited to vote online for one of three finalists. The winner got hired in a surprise announcement made before the kick-off of the Champions League Final between Juventus and Chelsea, in front of 60,000 people.

This interview game, which Heineken called ‘The Candidate,’ has clear guidelines (four ‘tests’), a clear objective (identify the best candidate) and defined roles (Unsuspecting Interviewee, Dopey Interviewer, Voters, Suicidal Jumper, et al). Its environments were visually clear. All that gave it what we call ERGOTM structure. In a word, it was ‘playable.’ That made it easy for audiences to understand, easy for them to imagine themselves competing in the game themselves.

If the ROI on the game were to be measured solely in terms of achieving its objective,’ it would be ridiculously inefficient. You can hear your VP of Talent Development questioning everything about it: Cameras? Hidden cameras? Why do we need the entire marketing department to vote on an intern hire? Isn’t that a huge waste of everyone’s time? Actors? Firefighters? Two Champions League teams? All to hire an Intern? Get out of my office! GOMO!

Viewed as a way of achieving a business objective, this interview process is a ridiculous waste of resources. But Heineken wasn’t investing in the game to achieve the objective of hiring an intern, it was investing in it to generate positive outcomes.

The objective of a game is its point of focus. Its outcomes define its value over time. 

We don’t play baseball solely to win at baseball. We play it to be on a team of friends who wear cool uniforms. Or to escape poverty in The Dominican. Or to earn respect. Or one of a million other reasons.

The results of a chess game will be long forgotten, but the pattern recognition skills we learn by playing chess can last a lifetime.

The objective of finding gold in California has been long abandoned but the Gold Rush outcome of denim jeans is still going strong.

As Viola Spolin, the godmother of improv theater in America said, “Going fishing is not only to catch the fish, it is to make contact, with the sun, the wind, the water, ourselves”

Achieving the objective, i.e. by defeating an opponent or reaching a goal, is only one out of infinitely many possible positive outcomes of a productive game. The objective represents only a small percentage of the possible ROI in a game. Most of the ROI is in the outcomes.

‘The Candidate’ generated outcomes that never could have happened with either a traditional job interview or a traditional TV spot: Honest emotions. Human characters. Employee engagement. Surprise. Fan appreciation. Millions of views. Brand identity. Fans. Stories!

And a well-qualified new intern.

 When you look at it not as a corporate interview process but as an investment in organizational storytelling this game makes complete sense. Heineken’s bet is still paying off. I mean, look at me, writing about it three years after it happened, after one of my connections linked to it today on LinkedIn. I’m not writing about the Budweiser spot from the 2013 Super Bowl, am I?

Google ‘Heineken The Candidate’ and see the outcomes for yourself.

  Game, Marketability, Video
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 Mike Bonifer

  (57 articles)

Mike Bonifer is the founder and Chief Storyteller for bigSTORY, a network of experts in diverse fields who specialize in effective communication and draw on breakthrough research that accounts for how stories affect business performance. We call our process Agile Storytelling. We apply it to help clients improve their communication processes, make more meaningful connections with audiences, drive customer advocacy and engage employees. Bonifer has been focused on new storytelling platforms and practices for his entire life, from the theme park his family built on the farm where he grew up in Indiana, through a long association with the Walt Disney Company, to bigSTORY’s contemporary work with Skype, Wipro, Manulife, United Airlines, and a host of mid-sized companies, and universities such as USC, Notre Dame and NYU. He has written five books on the subject of storytelling, most recently GameChangers—Improvisation for Business in the Networked World, and CTRL Shift—50 Games for 50 ****ing Days Like Today. In addition to its consulting work, bigSTORY develops and produces original stories. We are currently developing Death of Cassini, an opera about the last days of NASA’s Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, and Crypto Kid, a television series about Tinashe Nyatanga, a Zimbabwean hip-hop music editor living in Los Angeles who advises young music and entertainment stars on their cryptocurrency investments. The basis of all our work is a belief that our most optimistic futures are realized when we build stories together. When your story and my story become our story.