Maybe it was Chance the Rapper. In March, the artist called a new Heineken ad racist, and many agreed with him. The spot for the brand’s light beer featured a bartender sliding a bottle of beer past a collection of dark-skinned extras to a light-skinned woman further down the bar, followed by the tagline, “Sometimes, lighter is better.” Heineken pulled the ad and responded to critics by saying the tagline referred solely to “the benefits of the beer itself,” adding, “unfortunately, the line has been misinterpreted by some people, [but] this was of course never our intention and we are taking the feedback to heart.”
Now Heineken has announced a shift in brand positioning, not as a result of that earlier controversy, but certainly rooted in some of the same issues it raised. Global senior brand director Gianluca Di Tondo says it’s a result of research into both the sentiment and strategy of its recent campaigns, and the brand’s new direction aims to take away any room for misinterpretation, as well as better communicate with young people around the world.
Heineken’s “Open Your World” tagline has been around for years, but when the brand tested it recently, there was pushback for the first time. “The main pushback was, if you look at that tagline in a rational way, it asks the consumer to do something,” says Di Tondo. “It’s asking them to cross their own border. And this was adding to an already high level of stress they consider to have on their shoulders, compared to the previous generation.”
The new approach revolves around looking at life with a fresh perspective. “It’s inviting consumers to look at life to get the most out of it,” says Di Tondo. “We tested this approach and it resonated very well because it gives them a positive spin, and allows us as a brand to tell more light-hearted stories.”
Heineken is launching a new campaign of ads during the Italian Grand Prix Formula One race. To the casual observer, the spots are no different from the brand’s consistently goofy, if a bit cheeseball, ad approach–a big party! a misunderstanding!–like a beer version of a Mento’s ad. But there is one noticeable absence. A tagline.
“Taglines are always open to interpretation, and then you’re open to a cultural trap,” says Di Tondo. “With ‘Open Your World,’ the way a guy in Bombay would interpret it was different than a guy in Toronto or someone in Sao Paulo. We decided to simplify.”
Playing it safe isn’t necessarily a bad idea, particularly after your biggest earned media hit of the year is an accusation of racism. But the new approach seems to also rule out work like 2017’s “World’s Apart,” a surprisingly compelling look at what happens when strangers with differing political and social views share a beer. For now, Di Tondo says the goal is keeping things as light and clear as possible.
“If we want to say something we’ll say it in the communications, and translate it in the local language so it makes sense to everyone as intended,” he says. “We won’t ask the consumers to decode these themselves. This will increase the success of the campaign because it will increase people’s ability to understand what we’re saying.”