Heineken has released an ad that’s being described as a less stupid version of what Pepsi was trying to do with their Kendall Jenner’s “the resistance will the commercialized” campaign. Unfortunately—and try not to not to be too shocked here—it is still true that a company whose only goal is to sell beverages may not be best equipped to push social change.
The ad revolves around an experiment called “Worlds Apart.” Six people are paired together with their ideological opposite: A man who describes feminists as “man hating,” is paired with a woman who calls herself “100% feminist.” A transgender woman is matched with a man who describes transgender people as “not right.” A climate change denier is paired with someone who understands how science works. You see where this is going.
As the experiment begins, the three pairs meet and are asked to described themselves to their partner. They conveniently leave out any mention of adjectives that could reveal their opinions and ruin the experiment. Everyone chats for a bit, and then they do a couple of team-building exercises that involve building two stools and a bar. Once everyone is all warmed up and feeling chummy, the pre-recorded videos of them describing their political beliefs is projected on a wall and the jig is all the way up.
They are then told they can either bounce or sit down for a beer together and discuss their differences over a tasty, cold, socially conscious beverage. Everyone stays because otherwise the ad would be ruined.
I dislike this ad for two reasons.
My issue is not that people from different backgrounds can’t come together and find some common ground. It’s that this is the same reductive narrative we keep seeing over and over in the Trump era, and it doesn’t accurately represent the reality we’re living in.
There’s a difference between people having different opinions and people having morally wrong opinions. It is wrong to believe women are not equal to men. It is wrong to deny climate change. It is wrong to challenge the humanity of trans people. It’s not as if everyone had a different solution to curbing the drug trade or disagreed over the best method to reduce carbon emissions. (What’s more, the scripted dynamic here puts the burden of understanding on the person whose very humanity is being denied by their partner. For the experiment to be “successful,” for instance, the trans woman is required to ingratiate herself to the bigot, but not the other way around. Don’t get it twisted: This is not a fair game.)
But perhaps what’s most obnoxious is the air of superiority Heineken is implicitly taking here. Pepsi totally fucked up, they’re saying, but look at us. Aren’t we more clever and more thoughtful? Are you picking up on the very serious tone? We get it. Woke, huh?
Frankly, this is as dumb and clumsily conceived of as Pepsi’s commercial; it’s just less edgy and better produced. At the end of the day, it’s all the same. This spot doesn’t make me feel like Heineken really cares about trans rights or climate change; it just makes me understand that they are promotionally savvy enough to understand that, in 2017, appearing as if they care about those issues will help them sell beer. Corporations are trying to profit off this climate of distrust and fear and open hostility with the message that if we simply buy their products, we might find a way out of this mess. Don’t fall for that shit.