A new Heineken ad succeeds in a way the recent infamous Pepsi ad failed — with a faceplant so dramatic, it launched a million condemnations and subtweets. It also cost way, way less to make. But before I get into it, check out the ad below:
The concept is simple: A couple of strangers meet, build some furniture, and drink a beer together. They don't know that they stand on opposite sides of a particular political debate until after they've already gotten to know each other. The idea isn't groundbreaking (in fact, the site Refinery29 did a similar experiment months ago), and it's not extreme in any way, which is probably why it works. It's simple.
In contrast, a recent Pepsi ad (below, if you haven't seen it) delivers a totally confusing message, as innumerable beautiful young people frolic as they "protest." These aren't real people.
But in the Heineken ad, it's certainly real people who are disagreeing so fundamentally over issues from climate change to immigration, from abortion to police brutality. Showing them speaking with each other is something we can all relate to, especially if you've ever had a beer with someone you disagreed with. If you have, you know it's been interesting and useful to hear someone else's perspective.
Meeting people where they are helps us realize how much we have in common, and that's a solid first step toward coming together to solve major disagreements — or if not entirely resolve them, to compromise on some level. Liking people you disagree with can help you come to a place where you can at the very least respect them, even if you still don't think their perspective is correct. That's a worthy goal.
What happens when a disagreement isn't topical, but personal?
Not everyone thinks the Heineken ad is so great. Some think it legitimizes the opinions of, for example, a transphobic person, who is shown as one half of a duo who get to know each other in the ad. The other half is a trans woman. These are not two equal sides of a discussion, since they aren't simply having a disagreement about policy, but rather the acceptance of another person as a full human being. Is the anti-trans viewpoint really one that's just as legit as the opposing side? Should it be given equal time?
DiDi Delgado writes on Medium that this ad is worse than the Pepsi ad. She sees it as a type of propaganda — and not the good kind. "It tricks you into thinking social problems can be resolved if only people tolerate their oppression just a LITTLE while longer. It pushes the idea that bigotry, sexism, and transphobia are just differences of opinion that are up for debate, and deserving of civil discourse and equal consideration."
On the other hand, there are lots of people who don't afford people of another race (or any other group of people who live differently than they do) the same human rights they expect for themselves. They exist, and they live in our communities, and most importantly, they vote. Surely, not speaking to them isn't particularly useful for moving forward. But is it really the work of the people who experience laws that essentially punish them for being themselves — along with the everyday discrimination that presages those laws — to convince others of their true humanity?
This ad might have been better if it had stuck to showing people who disagree on ideas — not about people's basic human rights — but in most ways, it's still a successful commercial. Heineken takes the same idea that the Pepsi commercial did, but executes it in a personal, human way. Even when it gets the specifics wrong, it gets the concept really right.