In an effort to promote its beverage line, Heineken began running its “sometimes lighter is better” campaign in Europe and on the Heineken Ireland’s YouTube page in the summer of 2017. The campaign quickly came under intense scrutiny within days of airing in the U.S. last month, with Chance the Rapper describing the commercial as “terribly racist” in a tweet to his seven million followers.
Heineken’s YouTube video opens with a woman displaying disgust at drinking a glass of white wine. The bartender in the commercial “saves the day” by sliding a glass of Heineken Light down the bar table, passing several dark-skinned bargoers before reaching the lighter-skinned woman with the tagline “sometimes lighter is better” appearing on the screen. The messaging was followed with the number of calories per bottle and the text “Heineken Light: lower calories great taste.”
Heineken apologized for the commercial, produced by the marketing agency Publicis, and a spokesperson confirmed that all the ads were pulled in response to the backlash.
In a statement on March 23, Heineken USA spokesperson said in an interview with Adage, “While we feel the ad is referencing our Heineken Light beer—we missed the mark, are taking the feedback to heart and will use this to influence future campaigns.”
Chance the Rapper felt as though companies are promoting noticeably racist ads for higher impressions and reach with the adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” While he didn’t call for anyone to boycott the product, Chance the Rapper said that agencies do this to bait consumers and freelancers to post about their campaigns.
Heineken’s quick response to the backlash may prove to reduce the damage its brand receives, but parties are split between the commercial being culturally insensitive and individuals taking messaging out of context.
While the campaign ran without noticeable backlash throughout the summer of 2017 in Europe, it took days for negative criticism to develop when the same campaign aired in the United States.
Heineken isn’t the first company to suffer accusations of racism in the past year, joining the ranks of H&M apologizing for displaying a black child modeling a hoodie with “coolest monkey in the jungle,” Pepsi trivializing Black Lives Matter civil rights protests and Dove showing a video with a black woman transforming into a white woman after using Dove’s soap.
In my mind I can see both sides of Heineken’s recent gaff. The company has always been known for its light beers that are lower in calories, with “light” often representing lower calories in the beer industry.
On the other hand, I’m somewhat baffled as to why Publicis decided to show the beer passing by three darker-colored bargoers before making its way to the woman at the end of the bar table.
It’s unclear as to what Publicis office created the commercial, but it’s evident that the messaging could be taken out of context, especially with “sometimes lighter is better” appearing at the end of the commercial.
Despite the intentions of the messaging, it’s the responsibility of the marketer to know their audience when it comes to creating content. In Europe audiences didn’t seem to perceive the commercial to be in poor taste, but the culture is vastly different in the United States compared to Europe.
I personally don’t feel as though marketing agencies are deliberately adding controversial content into their work for the publicity; a brand’s reputation is half the equation when it comes to being profitable and successful.
The most recent presidential election may have sparked the idea that there is no such thing as negative publicity, but this isn’t the case for a vast majority of organizations. At the end of the day marketers need to be more aware of what they’re presenting to their audience with the mindset that their messaging can and will be taken out of context.
What are your thoughts regarding the Heineken Light campaign and its messaging “sometimes lighter is better”? Do you think the backlash is justified or is this being taken out of context? Let me know in the comments below!