Amid a backdrop of worldwide consolidation in the beer category, Dutch brewing giant Heineken N.V. continues to rely on sponsorship as a platform to maintain its premium global positioning and engage consumers.

The strategy: Focus on a handful of high profile sports and entertainment properties, around which it can activate in unique, one-of-a-kind ways to enhance the beer-drinking experience.

Those ties include a partnership announced in February with the 2012 London Olympic Games, as well as Rugby World Cup, rugby’s Heineken Cup European club competition and the UEFA Champions League, a sponsorship it just renewed through the 2014-15 season.

On the entertainment front, Heineken has a promotional tie-in with the James Bond movie franchise.

The company also applies that strategy to its ties in local markets around the world. In the U.S., those include the USTA US Open and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Southern California.

IEG SR spoke with Hans-Erik Tuijt, Heineken’s activation director, about the company’s sponsorship philosophy, its activation tactics and other topics. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.

IEG SR: How has Heineken come to its current sponsorship strategy?

Tuijt: To put the answer in context, we are the world’s leading premium beer, and the only one available around the world.

For Heineken, it’s not what you sponsor, but how you sponsor; how you bring a sponsorship to life. As a premium beer, we want to be associated with premium events. Internally, we say that Heineken wants to be part of the conversation.

Our sponsorship strategy isn’t about associating with soccer, rugby or music. I hear about a lot of companies saying, “I want to own football or I want to own music.” We want to be the premium beer in the world.

Sponsorship lets us leverage our associations to engage consumer passion. It’s a powerful marketing tool if you buy the right assets and tools to make a sponsorship relevant.

IEG SR: Can you share an example of how Heineken activates to tap consumer passion?

Tuijt: We organize a trophy tour around our sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League. We take the tour to big cities around the world and we organize a final event where consumers can have an amazing experience in an amazing location. That’s the kind of thing we want to do.

In 2009 we created a fake Italian concerto that took place at the same time as the Champions League game between A.C. Milan and Real Madrid in Milan. We had professors instruct students to attend the concert, and we also had girlfriends tell their boyfriends they wanted to go.

People were pissed off. They wanted to see the big game. We rented a theater and hired a violin quartet. The quartet stared playing, and all of a sudden they started playing the Champions League anthem. The whole theater exploded, and then we showed a live screening of the match. We try to do those kinds of things where we can engage consumers and have fun.

IEG SR: Heineken has a partnership with London 2012 and just renewed the UEFA Champions League. Have you signed any other deals recently?

Tuijt: I am extremely proud and happy with the portfolio that we have. Each property plays a different role.

The Champions League helps us create awareness in countries where we have a more limited presence. James Bond is very much about trial, while Heineken has a very long history with rugby, which is more about loyal customers. They know we sponsor rugby and see Heineken as one of their mates.

IEG SR: How does Heineken measure success?

Tuijt: At the time we migrated our Champions League sponsorship from Amstel Light to Heineken in 2006 we did zero measurement.

The nice thing with a global property like the Champions League is that we can follow people that like football to see how our image improves. We track Heineken drinkers that are aware of the sponsorship, as well as those who are not aware. As soon as people are aware of the sponsorship, they have a better perception of Heineken and are more inclined to drink the product.