“Worlds Apart” and social inequalities in a global economy

This critique was originally written for a Critical Design class within MRU’s information design program.

Watch here: Heineken Worlds Apart #OpenYourWorld

Heineken has jumped on the world–peace commodification bandwagon to sell us some beer, and some of us are scratching our heads. While it may warm your heart to see two strangers (actors) clinking beer (terrible beer) over “resolved” opinions, it is yet another bland brand profiting from the divisiveness apparent in our online and offline communities.

The advertisement’s premise builds on bringing those with oppositional opinions together in finding common ground. The narrative stages icebreakers, discussion and beverages to supposedly break divides of contrasting views, and spoiler alert—it totally works! Yet, the brand’s apparent care for social issues seems disingenuous in the ad’s staging, as Heineken is promotionally smart enough to capitalize on the divided climate present in our media and social media feeds. The ad sits neutrally among opposing sides but places individuals in compromising situations. Yet, is it questionable that a Heineken beer is advertised to create feel-good antidotes in solving highly problematic movements? No, because every brand is doing it. Let us not forget the horror of Pepsi featuring Kendall Jenner. 

The “Worlds Apart” campaign superficially opens up a social dialogue, but Heineken conveniently takes no side and prompts brand loyalty in a highly accessible ad. The campaign extends to a climate of compartmentalized groups of similar opinion. These same people—you and I—seeking out agreeable crowds online are the target audience, and Heineken’s effortless extension into online platforms to promote their beverage responds views. Social media fosters instant gratification as much as networked activism, but our online activism is saturated in products to identify ourselves to such a cause. “Worlds Apart” doesn’t feel as glaringly off the mark, then. 

The ad, then, sits glaringly in social media feeds saturated by articles pertaining to fake news, politically charged discussion, and a climate of open hostility in the era of Trump, Brexit, identity politics, and news or opinion alike. The ad capitalizes on this theme in the first nine seconds of the video as a male says, “I would describe my political views as the new right [and] feminism today is man-hating,” before cutting to a shot of a woman wearing a T-shirt that reads, “smash the patriarchy” while claiming she swings left. The woman’s “empowering” T-shirt slogan is yet another example of brands hopping on bandwagon social causes for the sake of sales. Heineken uses the language of personal choice and identity politics to elevate the commodity beyond its use of consumption. The beer-like other objects of consumption—illustrates the interconnectedness of products to political contexts. 

The brand goes on to reveal the seemingly peaceful participation of beverages in breaking divides. In particular, the previously sexist male clinks his beer with the woman and says, “smash the patriarchy,”—the exact words printed on the woman’s shirt prior to their meeting. This simple problem–solving tactic of building furniture and drinking beer to resolve deeply–rooted social issues suddenly becomes more disingenuous. The theatricality present as the male utters the exact words printed on the woman’s shirt, in the beginning, is all too easy. Heineken’s ad simulates simple problem solving of heavy topics, but the reductive narrative is a far cry from the realities of online discussion where Heineken’s audience’s commonly debate. Anyone using social media can find arguing opposites and impatient responders at the click of a finger, so it’s pretty remarkable that a beer can dissolve such tensions, supposedly. 

Apart from unbelievable actors bonding over IKEA-esque building adventures, the advertisement ensures those in compromising positions should hear out opposing sides supporting the exact regressive ideologies keeping them in conceding spots in the first place. The campaign’s weakness suggests not the unlikeliness of opposites coming together to find common ground, but placing exhausted social issues up for debate takes the ad a step back. Placing people in pairings with those who outwardly deny other’s basic human rights is problematic. Specifically, the ad plays–out the interaction of a trans woman enjoying a beer with a cisgendered male who vocalized feelings that the existence of transgender people is wrong. So, Heineken, I guess you’re not that progressive after all.

Why use a transgendered woman’s existence as a topic of debate? It’s challenging to think that vulnerable people—who continually legitimize their identities—may have to engage in deliberation over a beer to further prove their existence. I do not see the transgender woman claiming intolerance for cisgendered males, so why should she prove her identity? It would feel rather off if she had asked him to explain why his identity is of her concern to acknowledge, so the ad’s pairings of oppositional viewpoints and marginalized people are not equal. Flip the situation. 

The interaction between the opposing individuals plays out smoothly in the ad, as Heineken advocates discussion and downplays current dangers of marginalized groups. The pairings clink their Heineken beverages after a three-second shot of seemingly talking out their oppositions. The self–described “new right” man claims, “smash the patriarchy” to the outward feminist, and the transphobe asks the transgender woman to exchange numbers. The progress and acceptance are unrealistic. People who refuse to acknowledge other’s basic human rights are not usually so quick to accept alternative views in reality. If they were, then, hate speech against vulnerable groups would not be as prevalent and our Twitter feeds would be “boring”. However, this is not the case since Heineken beer has not proved to solve world problems since the campaigns’ airing in April 2017. Heineken has instead opted for vague progressivism as a way to sell beer.

Heineken’s advertisement succeeds in displaying surface level agreement among individuals who hold polarizing views, yet the ad’s theatrical sincerity omits Heineken’s desire to bring real change. Although the storyline finds relevance within the social and political climate, it misses the mark on properly addressing issues, and it is critical to ask if these topics should be up for discussion at all in the context in which they are placed. Using beverages as a platform for talking points on transgender and sexist matters limits the conversation, and displaying short clips and smartly crafted scenes is questionable in simulating a discussion between peoples of marginalized groups and those who oppose them. 

Heineken is yet another brand using problems of the current world to their commercial advantage, and in doing so the brand has created an accessible advertisement that received and is still earning positive reviews. It is refreshing for the general public to see cooperation amidst a fear–mongering climate, but an analysis of “Worlds Apart” reveals that purchasing a Heineken beer with your polar opposite results in average looking furniture and surface-level tolerance. 


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