Heineken’s Dream is Pepsi’s Nightmare

This week in digital, we’d like to discuss two of the biggest online advertising campaigns to drop this month. With similar ideas and themes, we want to find out why Pepsi are the digital losers of April whilst Heineken are flying high.

Pepsi’s PR Nightmare

The backlash Pepsi have faced since their recent marketing car crash has been unmissable, if you spend any amount of time online. Released at the beginning of April, they produced an advert intended to unify all demographics as one in a statement of solidarity. However, the soft drink giant came under major criticism for implying that their product could be the catalyst to ending racial and political divide across the world.

Kendell Jenner, the protagonist and heroine of this nightmare, is seen throwing a wig aside to join protestors, with a calculatedly diverse crowd surrounding her. In a near music festival like atmosphere, Jenner amazingly closes the divide between tyranny and revolution by offering a cold and crisp looking beverage to a police officer. The ad closes with a crowd cheers and a message of to “Live Bolder”, “Louder” and “For Now.” In case you haven’t seen it take a look below:

Despite Pepsi’s intentions, the ad was immediately condemned, criticised and ridiculed. Reactions on Twitter focused on the questionable ethics surrounding the use of protest imagery to sell fizzy drinks. Deep social issues are over simplified as a background to advertising soda.

But why then as Heineken followed suit, was the outcome so different?

Heineken Becomes the Hero

Pepsi’s blunder undoubtedly had the lager’s marketing department shaken. However, they marched on and released their own ad in the last week of April with virtually the same premise – their product playing an active role in bridging divides in society.

Heineken’s approach was different though. Titling their production “Worlds Apart”, they group couples together with majorly conflicting beliefs on an array of topics from global warming to gender roles. Participants worked together building an unknown structure and engaged in general conversation, without acknowledging the difference of opinion.

They establish what they have in common, develop a relationship and work together. This leaves two bottles of beer, stools and a bar in place. As a video is played highlighting each respective difference in belief, both parties are informed they can leave. Otherwise they can sit together and enjoy their drink, whilst engaging in discussion.

The outcome is that everyone involved comes away with a new perspective. They learn something about the stranger they now know and empathise with. Dialogue and engagement with one another allows them to identify their own insecurities and shortfalls. Sharing a beer does nothing more than facilitate a conversation. The powerful messages we’re left with at summary includes“Open Your Mind/World.”

And were the famous brewers ridiculed in the same way Pepsi were? Absolutely not! In fact, their efforts were actually celebrated and hailed for managing to do things right. Fortune even described it as the “antidote” to Pepsi’s failure. So why were the reactions so different to such similar ideas? Here’s our two cents on the matter for what it’s worth… And since your dying to see this video in all it’s glory here it is:

Delivering the Wrong Message

We understand that copywriters will often use bigger issues or unrelated factors to tell a story that fits their brand – that’s fine. Subliminally pushing a product is only successful when there’s a relevance to the issue tackled and the message is clear.

Pepsi wanted to use current events that would trigger multiple demographics. Unfortunately, their product just held no place in the story they told. We judge ourselves by our intentions but others do so by our actions. Even if they intended to unify people through their product, the only unity that was consequential was an online movement to scold the ignorance of their actions.

Pepsi forced their branding into an environment they had no relevance in. Everything in their campaign just seemed unrealistic, unclear and insincere in what it sought to achieve. In parody of this ad, NewsHub reported that a Portland Anti-Trump protestor was even seen unsuccessfully handing a can to a police office. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t end the tense situation and confirmed the ridiculousness of the failed ploy. Pepsi had no clear or real message, and insulted their audience with poorly constructed copy. Nothing but scrutiny is what their efforts were thus doomed for.

Why Heineken Prospered

In contrast, Heineken were successful because the message they delivered was consistent and left no confusion. They challenged the audience to broaden their perspectives and open up. Product placement and advertisement actually took a backseat to the more important social issues. The beer was not the hero of this copy – the participants were.

The brewers developed an environment to work together and engage in “bridge building.” In contrast to Pepsi, these efforts because they’re both realistic and sincere. It doesn’t actually matter if the dialogue was scripted or not (there’s claims it was genuine but with advertising you’ll never know). The difference between Heineken and Pepsi is that the ad for the beer had an identifiable message that we can understand.

Aside from the fact that the ad for the lager was simply better, we just can’t fault Heineken in the way we can with Pepsi. They accepted their small role in a bigger story. They were smart not to force themselves into a heroic position that would quite obviously annoy viewers.

How YOU Can Learn from This Mistake

We’ve previously discussed how good copy can increase conversion. Delivering the right message is just as important in terms of building brand appreciation. Evoking curiosity and emotion is obviously positive. your copy needs to captivate potential customers with your brand.

It’s unlikely that anyone will actively boycott or combat Pepsi following this ad. The subconscious negativity surrounding this campaign though could very well lead to undesired consequences for their image. If you want to tell your story through emotional and dramatic themes, that’s great! Just make sure that your message is clear, it fits your product and it makes sense.

Just as much as this approach can be risky, it can be rewarding when executed correctly. I personally don’t drink Heineken.  But now, they’re cemented in my mind because of their copy. When I next go for a pint, I might just have one of their products whereas I wouldn’t have before. I definitely have appreciate their brand more since this campaign, as many others will too.

A Closing Thought

The reason this story is so important to the digital world is the backlash of each respective campaign. Through social media, your audience has a louder voice than ever. The public reactions came fast and strong though, and instantly sealed their fates.

Going viral was what both organisations wanted. And although they did, Pepsi’s production forced them to take their video down and release an apology. Time, resources and efforts were wasted, and why? Because they tried to exploit a situation without telling a relevant story.

You can’t afford to make a blunder like Pepsi did. Online is an amazing platform that we have access to and has unequivocal accessibility. Acknowledge the vulnerability it also offers though.  If we publish copy that hurts our branding and message, it can cause irrefutable damage.

It’s really something you seriously need to put thought into. Respect your audience and be responsible in the stories you tell. Your copy will give you the outcome Heineken achieved if you get this right, not Pepsi!

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