Pepsi vs Heineken – How they both got it wrong

A very wise man once said that the internet is the first thing that humanity built, that humanity doesn’t understand. The internet is such a place where anything can go from right to wrong in a jiffy. As we are slowly and gradually moving towards a ‘progressive’ society that is open, transparent and empathetic, many brands have started capitalizing on these progressive concepts. The digital world is full of instances that show us how numerous companies and brands have taken to advertising using sensitive issues. The internet is particularly raging against two such campaigns put out by popular brands: Pepsi and Heineken. Advertisements by both these commercial brands have gone viral for all the wrong reasons.

The Pepsi Kendall Jenner advertisement received five times as many dislikes as it got likes. The advertisement was not able to generate a buzz and fell flat. This Live For Now campaign showed Kendall Jenner participating in a multicultural rally. The purpose of the protest remained quite unclear although the placards suggested that it was for the Black Lives Matter movement amongst other issues. The advertisement ended with Kendall handing over a Pepsi can to a grim police officer who accepted it readily and took a sip. The internet was abuzz with backlash as many people believed it debased the black freedom struggle. It seemed to suggest that sensitive issues like these, could be overcome with just a bottle of soda. It attempted to address a global issue of unity, peace and understanding but clearly missed the mark. Pepsi succumbed to the pressure and pulled down the advertisement on 5th April,2017. People have shown their resentment towards the advertisement because it appeared as though Pepsi was trivializing the urgency and seriousness of a sensitive issue.


The Heineken Open Your World Advertisement has been dubbed as the antidote to the Pepsi Kendall Jenner advertisement. Many a times, the antidote turns out to be as venomous as the poison.

The latest Heineken advertisement brought together two people with polar opposite views on social issues like transgender, climate change and feminism. They were all given a task to build a bar and interact with one another. In the end, they were made aware of each other’s contradicting thoughts and feelings on the pressing topic. Given a choice to leave or stay and talk over Heineken beer, they all stayed back to discuss their views and opinions. This pseudo acceptance in the end, did not go down well with audience. It seemed too good to be true. This kind of advertising tricks you into believing that societal issues and challenges can be tackled with something as inconsequential as beer. It portrayed that Heineken beer was the olive branch that would bring about a difference in the way society thought and behaved. Although this advertisement won praises from certain viewers who felt it encouraged open-minded and radical discussions, it ultimately ended up trivializing the issue as well.

The global society is shifting in its attitudes and beliefs. Having a progressive and liberal outlook seems to have become the in thing. And while it is good that more and more people are embracing change, the problem arises when brands start using this to sell their product, even when the two ideas don’t quite fit as well. For instance, a brand might consider addressing issues like multiculturalism, feminism, LGBTQ etc. through their communication but when the product push arrives it should never impinge on the issues at hand. While Pepsi was more blatant in conveying its message, Heineken didn’t do a much better job. A brand cannot just raise topics like these and leave it at a discussion over a beer.

Many marketers face similar issues when trying to incorporate multicultural themes into their advertising communication. Many brands have managed to get it right and consistently continue to do so. You can check out some of them here. But as for the rest, well, they need to understand the fine line between addressing important issues and trivializing them.


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