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Heineken Pulls Racist “Lighter Is Better” Ad After Backlash

But seriously, though–why do ads like these keep happening?

Heineken Pulls Racist “Lighter Is Better” Ad After Backlash

It’s too predictable at this point: A major brand creates a tone-deaf ad, justified roasting ensues online, said brand promises to do better next time.

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But why can’t “next time” just be now?

Heineken recently released an ad for its light beer. In the spot, a bartender notices a woman who’s visibly glum that she can’t drink her white wine because it has too many calories. Sensing his moment to be a hero, the bartender pops open a Heineken Light and slides it across the party toward the young woman as the tagline, “Sometimes, lighter is better” appears onscreen.

You can watch the ad here.

What has people raising their eyebrows and Heineken pulling the ad is the fact the only visible extras that the beer passes by are dark-skinned black people–and that the woman who can now enjoy an alcoholic beverage for only 99 calories most certainly isn’t. That, plus the tagline, “Sometimes, lighter is better” equals this sorry, not sorry statement from Heineken:

The reference to “Sometimes Lighter is Better” in our Heineken Light advert solely refers to the benefits of the beer itself; the fact that it contains only 99 calories. Unfortunately the line has been misinterpreted by some people, this was of course never our intention and we are taking the feedback to heart. Although we received this feedback from the US market, we will no longer be using the “Rooftop” ad in other markets.

Calling this spot racist may be a reach for some, but not every marketing fail has to be as egregious as H&M’s sweatshirt fiasco. This is something subliminal that may not have been intentional but is puzzling all the same as to how it made it to air–especially when it would’ve been such an easy fix. No one would’ve framed the tagline in a racial way if the only extras in focus weren’t darker-skinned black people. Why not swap them out with white people and make the main actor a visibly black woman?

It all screams of a tone-deaf / casual racism we’ve seen too many times before from brands: Kendall Jenner tossing her photoshoot wig to a black woman to, ironically enough, fight the good fight against police brutality with a can of Pepsi. Or a Taco Bell spokesguy throwing his Chalupa wrapper at a black mother. Or Nivea telling men to “re-civilize” themselves, using a black man tossing the head of presumably his unshaven, afro’ed former self to drive the point home.

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There are certain far more overtly racist ads, but examples like these and Heineken’s latest gaffe are no less insidious. Of the angry and just plain tired voices that spoke out against Heineken’s ad, Chance the Rapper summed it all up so well in a series of tweets:

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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