Nearly every month, like clockwork, another company makes an overwhelmingly offensive mistake in a marketing campaign. This month, Heineken had their time in the spotlight. They released an ad for their new, calorie-light beer, which was immediately called out as “terribly racist” by three-time Grammy Award winner, Change the Rapper.
His issue with the campaign went beyond the fact that it was clearly racist- the ad features a bartender sliding a light beer past several people of color until a fair-toned woman picks it up at the end with the slogan “sometimes lighter is better”. This is one of those ads where it’s hard to believe that the concept was approved in the first place, but knowing that somehow in the process of casting, shooting, editing, and the several rounds of approval before releasing the video, nobody found anything wrong with it is shocking.
Chance believes that the ad was engineered to be offensive because Heineken knows that offending people of color is one way of creating a viral ad campaign, even though it’s with a negative message. If they were just looking for general awareness of the campaign, no matter how poorly it reflected on them, they certainly got it. Chance has over 7 million followers on Twitter where he wrote the following about the campaign:
I think some companies are purposely putting out noticably racist ads so they can get more views. And that shit racist/bogus so I guess I shouldn’t help by posting about it. But 😂 I gotta just say tho. The “sometimes lighter is better” Hienekin commercial is terribly racist omg
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) March 26, 2018
After he called Heineken out on their blunder, the company released a statement saying, “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”. Their response seems very sterile and unapologetic, considering that this is the ad that they put out:
Heineken has since pulled the ad, and clearly has a lot of learning to do and changes to make. This issue of social ignorance and offensive campaigns has become increasingly problematic. Recently, some social media outrages over similar campaigns include the controversy over H&M’s ad of a black child wearing a hoodie that read “coolest monkey in the jungle”, or the Pepsi ad that used Kendall Jenner to represent marginalized minority groups. And let’s not forget Dove’s recent ad “scandal” where a black model washed herself with their soap and appeared to turn white in a shorter version of the ad.
Another blatantly insensitive stunt from Snapchat featured a poll asking users if they would “rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown,” in reference to the domestic violence incident in 2009 when Chris Brown attempted to murder Rihanna, who narrowly escaped with life-threatening injuries. This is another one of those ads where the fact that this was approved to be published is absolutely shocking.
These recent events just prove that companies are failing when it comes to socially-aware campaigns. There are social issues out there that are incredibly important that brands could help solve or promote positive messages about instead of intensifying the problem, but it seems like there’s a lot of learning to do before that becomes a reality.