They were strangers a world apart, brought together by a beer commercial billed as a social experiment. Along the way, they bridge political divides — with a little help from Heineken.
The social media success of the beermaker's new “Open Your World” campaign is especially stunning in light of Pepsi’s disastrous attempt earlier this month at showcasing “people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony.”
That tone-deaf ad stars celebrity model Kendall Jenner strutting through a diverse crowd at a protest-turned-street-party to hand a police officer a soda, in an attempt to bring the groups together. The Twitterverse exploded in outrage, accusing Pepsi of appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement for profit. The soft drink giant pulled the ad and apologized.
Heineken, too, highlights diversity — through three pairs assigned to assemble Ikea-like furniture in a warehouse.
A black feminist and a white conservative who views feminism as “man hating.” A climate change skeptic and an environmental activist. A transgender woman and a man who believes transgenderism is “not right.”
But instead of Pepsi's token nod to political and social differences, Heineken's ad features deep conversations about those divisions.
In the four-and-a-half-minute ad, the transgender woman confides in her furniture-building partner that she often feels attacked and misunderstood. Then she watches a previously recorded video clip of him calling transgenderism “very odd.” He says, “You're a man, be a man. Or you're a female, be a female.”
The feminist watches a clip of her male partner saying: “Women do need to remember that we need you to have our children.”
The climate change skeptic says in his interview clip that environmentalists need to “get off their high horses and start looking for credible problems that actually exist.”
Awkward side glances ensue.
A buzzer rings. Each pair is presented with a choice: leave, or stay at the bar they have just built together and discuss their differences over a beer.
The man explains to the transgender woman that he was brought up to view the world as black and white. “But life isn’t black and white,” he admitted.
The other two pairs also find reason to stay — and clink bottles.
The ad, created by Publicis London, closes with the Heineken logo and the words: “Open your mind. Open your world.”
Here is why the Heineken ad works, according to marketing experts:
- The message was simple, yet simultaneously deep. If you’re going to have a great conversation, you need a great beer. And that beer is Heineken.
- There was just enough risk to make the ad edgy. It grabs the audience’s attention, without gratuitous references to diversity.
- It’s authentic, featuring real people, real divisions and real empathy.
The epiphany created by the Heineken ad was an effective way to engender brand loyalty, said Ron Campbell, president of Campbell-Communications, a New York-based consulting firm that helps corporations tap into multicultural markets.
“The topics they have chosen are controversial, so there’s always a risk. But there’s a greater reward,” he said.
Pepsi, on the other hand, threw an ad together with a celebrity and a hot topic they thought was important to African Americans — “but it was a critical mistake” that he said highlights the lack of diversity in advertising’s creative and decision-making table.
“Black Lives Matter is not something that should be in advertising,” Campbell said.
Monique Nelson, chair and chief executive of UniWorld Group, a multicultural advertising agency with offices in New York, Detroit and Atlanta, said diverse voices, such as those featured in the Heineken ad, are invaluable through the entire creative process “to ensure the message is heard, seen and felt with true intention.”
“Perspective really dictates our understanding,” she said. “When we discount or ignore the perspective of those who are different, we’ve lost the opportunity to connect on more than a surface level — or worse, we offend.”
A successful ad that celebrates human differences requires deep knowledge of various cultures and communities, she said. “Dipping your toe in the shallow end doesn’t count,” she said. “This is a deep end sport, like all things dealing with human emotion.”
Heineken says it wants to bring to other venues similar conversations that challenge stereotypes.
It has partnered with The Human Library, a worldwide social change movement that started in Copenhagen, to hold events with real people from a variety of backgrounds — a refugee, a Muslim, a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder.
While Heineken appears to be winning so far, it remains to be seen if any real social change — and profits — result.
"The risk is not following through and letting this be a stunt,” Nelson said.