Heineken fights to protect its brand and trademark red star

Brand trademark, brand protection

Global beer brand forced to defend its iconic red star and perceptions of it promoting communism.

Dutch brand Heineken is recognised globally for its green cans and bottles. Another core brand asset is the red star.

Unfortunately for Heineken, the red star is also seen as a communist symbol. This is placing the brand in a battle with the Hungarian government who is determined to ban brands using ‘totalitarian symbols’.

Recent reports suggest the brand’s red star is caught up with a number of brands that are currently being questioned in Hungary. The proposed law would force brands to remove imagery such as the communist star from being displayed in the ‘interests of domestic public order and public morality’.

Heineken claims that the red star is used in all territories and is a key element of the brand’s trademark image. They also state that the logo predates the red star associated with communism during the 1950s.

However, there does appear to be some precedence with Heineken dropping the use of red in the star until 1991 and the fall of the USSR for similar reasons.

Brand change, brand perception

Heineken also point out that the star represents the five ingredients of its beer; water, barley, hops and yeast and the ‘magic of brewing’.

Regardless of whether the Hungarian government is successful or not, this is a reoccurring perception challenge that the brand needs to address.

Heineken could keep fighting to redefine what a red star means to protect their brand heritage. They are a global brand and Hungary is just one small market. Another option could be to modify the brand in Hungary only. However, for brand consistency and many other reasons, that is not ideal.

As a global brand, Heineken needs to sensitive to how its identity and the symbolism it projects is perceived in different markets. It also needs to consider whether this is just a small attack that it can defend or it is the start of a bigger fight.

Being right or wrong won’t matter in the long run if there’s a movement against them in former communist countries (and beyond). The problem is once you see the communist star, it’s pretty hard to un-see it.

After all, whether it is true or not, perception is everything. Being known as the drink for the ‘commies’ is not going to win the brand too many favours across most of the globe.

Michael Hughes

Michael is Managing Partner and Strategy Director at Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years’ experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in unlocking the strategic power of your brand to create a differentiated, compelling and authentic brand proposition that will engage all your audiences. Michael has extensive experience working across Australia and the Middle East working with leading Australian and International organisations across just about every sector.


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