How Heineken Got It So Right and Pepsi Got It So Wrong

Two beverage ads. Two bottles to pop off. You guzzle down both, but only one is respectively refreshing.

Beer. Pepsi. We tend to love them both. But in one particular instance, Pepsi left us with gut rot and the strong desire to pour the remaining 5 cans we have stored in our garage refrigerator, down the drain. So how did Heineken get it so right and Pepsi get it so wrong?

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Let’s first start with the facts. For those of you who haven’t seen Heineken’s four-and-a-half-minute ad, it features a social experiment involving three different pairs of people who are from the United Kingdom, all with decidedly different beliefs. The participants are in a warehouse talking with each other, completely unaware of their political differences.  There is a man who doesn’t believe that it’s okay to identify as transgender, who is paired with a woman who is transgender. There’s another man who doesn’t believe in climate change, who is paired up with a man who does. Finally, you have a man who describes feminism as “man-hating” paired with a woman who describes herself as a young, black feminist. The participants seem to be unaware of their differences and the purpose of the test. They are asked to perform a number of team-building exercises, which ultimately results in them assembling a bar and asking scripted personal questions along the way. They are then asked over a loud speaker to watch a video of the other person discussing and confessing their political views. Once they watch both videos, they must decide whether they want to leave, or stick around, drink a cold beer, and talk it out with the person who has been revealed as their complete opposite. In the end, they all decide to stay.

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You can watch the full ad here!

On the other hand, you have Pepsi’s two-and-a-half-minute commercial featuring Kendall Jenner with protesters who are trying to come together in unity. The key word here being, tried. Most felt the ad was anything but positive, leaving a bad taste for most viewers. In the commercial, we see Kendall modeling when suddenly, a protester passing by gives her a sexy smile, and she leaves the flashing cameras to follow him, to go protest and March. She soon sees a white male police officer giving a black protester a serious look. So, what does she do? She offers him a Pepsi, because that will surely solve all the world’s problems and end racism – right? The scene with the police officer accepting the Pepsi from Kendall was too reminiscent for most, of an actual protest image; that of Leisha Evans in the Baton Rouge protests last year.  The police officer drinks the Pepsi, smiles, and the crowd unanimously raises their arms in celebratory excitement, another big no no to most. It appeared Pepsi was oversimplifying protests and what they really mean, as well as making light of the issues of police brutality. Towards the end of the commercial, it even sounds like the music is saying “Epic fail, fail, fail.” They must have known all along. Pepsi pulled the ad immediately and released this statement: “Clearly we missed the mark and we apologize… we did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content.”

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This is a great example of how one brand got it so right and one got it so wrong. Heineken showed Pepsi how to correctly make a politically charged ad. What made it work? Their human moments didn’t appear forced but seemed to unfold all on their own. We felt inspired, we felt compassion, and we felt honesty. Despite these stranger’s different political views, they were able to talk it out over a drink. So, Pepsi, please hold my beer and allow me to make a toast. Here’s to you Heineken!

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Now, can we please put a bar inside Congress?

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-Haley Corkery │ Public Relations Specialist

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