Heineken: Brands should be humble about the role they can play driving social change

The beer brand’s UK marketing boss says it has been “a bit overwhelmed” by the response to its ‘Open Your World’ campaign.


Heineken believes brands should “hit the right tone and play the right role” when launching a purpose-led campaign, and be realistic about what can be achieved.

The brand unveiled its new ‘Open Your World’ campaign at the end of last month, which challenges Brits to break down barriers and find common ground with others who have opposing views.

The campaign video, created by Publicis, shows a real-life social experiment that puts together two strangers divided by their beliefs meeting for the first time. The pairings include a feminist and anti-feminist, and a climate change activist with someone who thinks it’s “piffle”. The aim of the video is to prove that even the most divided groups can come together to find common ground.

Heineken’s UK head of marketing Cindy Tervoort says the campaign was put together over the course of nine months following the insight that “empathy, openness and tolerance are under threat”.

The insular nature of social media, Tervoort claims, also means many people only hear from others that agree with their views. In line with Heineken’s self-proclaimed purpose to drive openness and diversity, it set out to inspire people by telling them to “focus on the things that unite us rather than divide us”.

“Ultimately, humans want to connect. If you get to know each other, you’re focused on finding that common ground,” she tells Marketing Week.

There has been a growing trend among brands to take a political or social stance in their campaigns, leading to both praise and outrage. While Starbucks received plaudits for its CEO’s commitment to hire refugees, Pepsi’s recent campaign, which shows model Kendall Jenner easing tensions with the police at a protest by handing out Pepsi, clearly missed the mark.

To avoid making the same mistake, Tervoort says Heineken ensured the campaign is part of a “long-term commitment”, and fitted perfectly with the brand and product.

We’re not suggesting we will achieve world peace [through the campaign], but what we can do is inspire people to meet and connect.

Cindy Tervoort, Heineken

“We see it as our duty to try and change the world. All our brands interact with millions of people every day, and we have the scale to reach a lot of people and to positively influence their opinions,” she says.

“It’s also about hitting the right tone and playing the right role. We’re not suggesting we will achieve world peace [through the campaign], but what we can do is drive those conversations and inspire people to meet and connect. So it’s actually about being humble about the role you can play.”

The campaign has seemingly made an impact, racking up more than 11 million views on YouTube so far. That said, it has led to some criticism about whether the brand has oversimplified the issue, as the world’s inequalities can’t be solved by simply having a beer.

When asked for her thoughts on this criticism, Tervoort responded by saying the initial consumer sentiment to the campaign has been “97% positive”, which the brand is “incredibly” happy with.

“It is important to me that people understand that we don’t feel that we have the answer and that we’re going to solve all problems. But we can contribute and bring people together,” she says.

Going forward, Heineken says it will keep driving a conversation around openness and diversity.

She concludes: “To be honest, the campaign is only two weeks old and in a positive way we’re a bit overwhelmed by the response. We’re now looking at the best way forward – we have so many things we can do and we definitely want to build on that.”

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