Is Heineken's attempt at purposeful marketing any better than Pepsi's?

Brands like Heineken and Pepsi have attempted to contribute to culture with varying degrees of success, says Chris Pearce.

 If a sugar-laden fizzy drink can’t bring peace and unity to the world – as so laughably demonstrated by Pepsi and Kendall Jenner – what chance has a pale and equally fizzy lager from the Netherlands got?

Alcohol might not necessarily be known for its ability to settle disputes  - in fact quite the opposite - but Heineken’s latest work for its "Open your world" campaign attempts to do just that. Equally, corporations that adopt a ‘social purpose’ can find that doing so with credibility, authenticity and a sufficient degree of human interest is fraught with difficulty (at TMW Unlimited we have tried to do the same with a campaign for Durex that compared the experiences of people with and without tech on holiday), however Heineken just about manage to pull this off without sounding pious, or worse, hypocritical.

While some of us in virtue-signalling, liberal adland might find the views of climate change deniers or feminism sceptics beyond the pale, the fact is that they do exist and given the fractured political times that we live in they are unlikely to go away anytime soon. Lord knows, we could do with trying to find some common ground, and by bringing them together with those with opposing views to ostensibly discuss their positions over a beer – and subsequently discover their common humanity – this film holds the attention well.

What could have easily fallen into the trap of being just another hollow game show – no likey, no lighty – is avoided as the brand’s involvement feels authentic (if generic), while the fact that they are using real people rather than those scooped from the pool of shallow celebrity means that it feels less contrived than it otherwise might.

If there was any criticism of this laudable attempt to infuse a brand with social purpose, it would be that the denouement in each vignette feels a little sanitised and that the people involved are playing to the camera when otherwise the outcome in pubs and bars across the land might have been rather different. The conversations that that they started over their diametrically opposed viewpoints barely scratch the surface – but then it’s fair to assume that Heineken wasn’t going to put together Al-Muhajiroun with representatives from National Action (and not just because the first group wouldn’t touch alcohol). The representatives here are basically reasonable people whose views are not on the extreme scale.

While their shallow discussions over a beer reveal that their views aren’t probably as trenchant as some, it might be more entertaining for future episodes to watch others with more intransigent positions down a (responsibly consumed) skinful before the screaming, remorse, shame and a tear-streaked "you’re my best mate" rapprochement at the local kebab shop concludes that Heineken really can heal division. The reality is probably different though – and outside adland, alcohol is more likely to exacerbate and embolden entrenched views, but all credit to Heineken for trying – at least it’s different and given us something to talk about.

Chris Pearce is the chief executive of TMW Unlimited

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