…or actually I would not. It is exactly what I would expect them to do. The ad “open your world” that went viral in social media has several flaws. You can read bunch of blogs about the inappropriate way of suggesting how people with opposite values and worldviews should just sit down together, have a bottle of beer, listen to each other and become friends. I am not going to address that.
I would like to look at the theme of the commercial and how much it reminds me of the beautiful video made by Danish TV2.
“We live in a time where we quickly put people in boxes. Maybe we have more in common than what we think?”
The video by TV2 aptly demonstrates the manifoldness of each individual and how the variety of our experiences in life brings us closer and closer to each other when we reflect on it and stop categorizing everyone.
To me, this is a video that ignites reflections about what is different and what we have in common. The video has had around 4 million views. Another one, with a similar idea is Momondo’s DNA experiment where total strangers coming from different countries, having different beliefs find out they are related and are deeply touched by it.
The sudden insight that humans are built from the same “material”, that we share history we have not learnt about at school, that our ancestors could have been friends – the insight of it is deeply moving and apparently appreciated by many – judging from its 3,5 million views.
“Strangers are friends you have not met yet”
The topic of social experiments showing the need for proximity (mental or physical) and the relief felt when we can trust another human being, is not entirely new. Steve Hartman’s photo project where he asked total strangers to pose for him as if they were close to each other has made many people click and share the video already 4 years ago.
And now comes Heineken’s version of it. With a “social experiment”. Suggesting that people can meet and talk and find something they share. To the contrary of the other videos, the way to the proximity is Heineken’s product. I would say that the people behind the idea have not thought it through and actually bluntly expose their marketing tactics.
Not so much “open your world” but “empty your world”
People in the experiment meet. They do not know each other and anything about each other. They are part of an experiment, which they are aware of. They get to work together. First they have a little ice-breaker, then they talk about themselves (open-up) and learn more about each other, then they get a major task where they help each other and they accomplish it together. A sense of shared effort is created which allows people to bond. Typical teambuilding. Used in many companies, organisations and events. Sometimes very expensive. If it did not work, we would not pay for it. So the guys in the experiment have “built a team” (and a bar).
Afterwards, when the job (of creating/building a relation to another human) is done, they are supposed to take a bottle of beer and talk and believe that it is the beer that has brought them together.
This is, in my opinion, a complete contradiction, a total travesty actually, but not a surprise. This is how people in the alcohol and marketing industry think. They analyse current trends and use those trends that have become popular enough as the tailwind for their ship… I mean product. The Heineken clip has 8 millions views right now. After some time we will all forget the beautiful TV2 ad and remember only Heineken. And we will forget that the understanding and solutions for proximity are in finding common grounds through asking, talking, “building” together, because we will have learn that we need a beer to be able to talk to those who are foreign to us.
Honestly, I was close to tears when I saw the ad.
Not because I was so impressed, but because I felt it was a pure manipulation. The guys in the experiment would probably not sit down together if they had not gone through the experiment (teambuilding) and learnt more about each other. And if they chose to stay, it would not be for the beer. Would you offer them a tea or pop-corn, they would consume that and continued talking (and bonding). It was NOT the beer that made them talk as we are supposed to believe. This commercial is yet another example of how the alcohol industry hijacks the beauty of being a human.
Under the influence of expectations
The Marlats study shows the placebo effect that alcohol has. We are under influence of our outcome expectancies more than of the substance of ethanol. We believe we will feel a certain way when we use alcohol. We believe we will/can behave a certain way when we use alcohol and that is why we feel or do so. How do we build the expectations? How do we create those experiences?
It is very simple psychology. By pairing (or conditioning). If we experience two events close to each other in time, our brain will create causality between them. As in Pavlov’s experiment with dogs, where the sound of a bell was shortly followed by giving the dogs food. The process was repeated a certain amount of times. First the dogs salivated because of the food but also learnt to connect the bell with feeding. After some time, the dogs started salivating each time the bell rang even when the food was not served. We do practically the same. When we experience something positive (a good talk with a friend, an A from an exam, a finished marathon race) and we are served alcohol at approximately the same time, our brain will associate those two events and make us believe, that the positive feelings we experience have been brought to us by the alcoholic beverages. If we do it often enough, we will learn that those feelings are impossible without an alcoholic drink.
Far from powerful. Rather insidious.
I think that this Heineken ad reveals an insidious marketing strategy. They blatantly exploit our human ability (and need) to empathize with each other, to connect and to feel compassion. This ad is not powerful as too many headlines raved. This ad is undermining our self-esteem and our freedom to find inside ourselves the ability to bond with a stranger. Into this void, where we once had self-esteem, comes a product that we are now supposed to purchase in order to feel whole. It’s not so much “open your world” as Heineken propagates, but more like “empty your world”…
The alcohol industry has succeeded in associating their products with innumerable amounts of positive experiences. Everything from sports, birthday parties, discos, spas, art, fun, craziness, intellectualism, feminism, healthy lifestyle and building relationships.
You know how yoga, running and HIITs (high intensity interval trainings) are becoming hip? The more people spent their time doing sports, the more articles about Wine County Half Marathon, Chardonai run, Beer yoga (!!!), Work out – go out (for a drink) initiatives we will see as suggested in the Washington Post article.
I do not remember 15 years ago alcohol commercials encouraging me to sweat more, run faster and climb higher. Those who used to run outside were seen as weirdos. Now when they are hip, the alcohol industry will be more than happy to accompany them. We all know that when we do sports, we produce endorphins that make us feel happy. Sport brings us the natural high. I am afraid it won’t be like that anymore. The high will be connected with the beer people will fetch right after their work-out in the gym.
You know what’s ironic? From scientific studies about habits we know, that when we develop a habit of regular sport activity, we tend to choose behavioural patterns that favour our health. I wonder for how long…
I wonder for how long we will continue to buy into this kind of marketing? I wonder about the level our corporate and media literacy.
Are we going to buy into their conditioning? Are we going to believe that we need a drink to feel good after a workout, as we currently believe that we need alcopops when we want to dance? Are we going to believe that we can overcome differences and bond with people only over a pint of beer?
Also published on Medium.