If you have been watching, reading, surfing or listening to the news you have heard the phrase “#Join the Conversation.”  It usually appears during a news story and prompts you as the audience to participate with a response on a social media channel.

Advertisers have responded to the hashtag with ad campaigns geared towards this movement.

Pepsi attempted to check all the boxes with a video advertisement: reach younger demo, use a hot celebrity, be visually appealing, use current music and deliver a message. In the ad, Kendall Jenner is seen as a model in a photo shoot, but she becomes distracted by a group of protesters. She decides to join them, and toward the end, comes face-to-face with a line of police officers. She offers one of the officers a Pepsi and he accepts the drink before cracking a smile. The immediate backlash was astounding. According to Wired.com, “Within 48 hours the video got nearly 1.6 million views on YouTube (five times as many downvotes as upvotes), and Twitter and Facebook lit up with people pointing out just how gauche the whole thing was. Activist DeRay Mckesson called it ‘trash,’ adding ‘If I had carried Pepsi I guess I never would’ve gotten arrested. Who knew?’”  As of mid-June, the video had over six million views.



With the backlash still ringing, it was surprising to hear that Heineken had taken up the gauntlet and tried their hand where Pepsi failed. The short video shows a social experiment with six people with potentially opposing views who did not know each other. One called herself a feminist, another transgender, yet another a conservative, etc. They were paired off and given tasks to complete. The question posed was “Is there more that unites us than divides us?”



The video shows the paired-off strangers working to build a bar and barstools, and then stopping to ask questions: Name four adjectives that describe you?  What three things do you like about me?  The audience gets to watch as each stranger introduces themselves to each other. No one mentioned their political views or ideals.

Then they are directed to place their well-deserved beers on the bar. Of course the beers are Heineken, but the camera does not focus on that. At that point of the experiment they are asked to watch a short video where they see themselves in their original interviews. They realize that the person with whom they just spent the last few hours has opposing views. After the video is completed the participants hear a voice say, “You now have a choice. You may go, or you can stay and discuss your differences over a beer.”

It is at this point where Heineken succeeds. The participants stay and HAVE A CONVERSATION.

They see each other as human beings, not the stereotype that they had originally portrayed of themselves.

The ad was posted on YouTube on April 20, and had more than thirteen million views as of June 19, 2017.

Political messaging is no stranger to brand advertising. Since the magical days of when we would all sing along to “I’d like to buy a world a Coke,” advertisers have worked in messaging that reflects and comments on social and political issues of the times. The lesson (hopefully) learned by Pepsi and other advertisers is that the message must be sincere and simple. The audience is smarter, more verbal and sensitive these days. Buzzwords and the hot celebrity of the moment don’t guarantee success, and in fact can even harm a brand when concepts are not properly vetted.