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Why Heineken bubbled and Pepsi fell flat

Earlier this year, we saw soft drink giant, Pepsi, and lager equivalent, Heineken, both run advertisement campaigns focusing on western politics to promote their world-renowned beverages. Using online videos, both instigated a huge discussion across social media channels. But that was where all similarities ended.

Whereas one hit the proverbial nail on the head, gaining over 14.4 million views on YouTube and garnering heaps of positive praise throughout the web, the other received a backlash from an equal, if not larger audience, leading the company to publicly apologise for its lack of empathy with current events, ultimately leading to the video’s removal.

Why was Heineken so successful in tackling such prickly issues as feminism, climate change and transgenderism? And why did Pepsi fall so flat in its attempts to highlight another controversial issue, race?

  • Knowing Your Audience

Positioning your brand in the same light as highly sensitive current affairs will always be a risk. To do so successfully, understanding your audience and demonstrating that understanding is paramount.

While Pepsi used protestors, police and most notably A list celebrity, Kendall Jenner, as the focus of its video, it failed to demonstrate any real authenticity and understanding of its young target audience. Kendall Jenner may have been the right influencer of choice due to her vast international social media following, but Pepsi’s ad demonstrably failed to make an emotional connection with the consumer.

Heineken, on the other hand, enlisted two normal everyday individuals and gave them stage time to voice their polar opposite opinions on gender feminism, climate change and transgenderism, cleverly encouraging the viewer to identify with either one.

  • Storytelling

Having a concept is everything and fleshing it out to the point where it’s obvious is critical to delivering your key message. Pepsi’s use of Kendall Jenner and the cast’s slightly cringeworthy acting somewhat inevitably led to accusations of an unethical corporation exploiting any relevant topic as a platform to sell more products. Although Pepsi was “trying to project a global a message of unity, peace and understanding,” it had the exact opposite effect on many.

In contrast, Heineken identified its characters, challenged them to build a bar together and, only after it was made clear that they could achieve more working together than apart, revealed their drastic differences in opinion on certain topics. With a clever and engaging twist, the brand then gave each person the opportunity to discuss their differences over a beer at the bar they had just made or walk away, almost as if to ask, what would you do? The narrative was entertaining, intriguing and, most importantly, will be remembered for the right reasons.

  • The Art of Execution

With a $40 million-dollar budget, Pepsi showed us you can damage your reputation just as quickly as you can improve it. Costing just a fraction of that, Heineken’s ad took a very different approach. Rather than flooding screens with something we’re all very familiar with, Heineken’s video maintained a degree of mystery for some time and attacked the social issues head on, joining in the current discussion, building trust with the consumer and showing its personality in the process.

The contrasting fortunes of the two showed just how important it is to know your audience, understand why they believe what they do and demonstrate that understanding in your narrative. If they can’t identify with you, why would they buy from you? Tell a story because a key part in delivering your key message is entertaining and connecting with the consumer. Make sure you provide a fully developed concept too, as simply maintaining their attention doesn’t provide enough incentive for them to engage with your brand. Finally, be different, promote your brand values and don’t beat around the bush. Whether your business is big or small, the end goal is to give the consumer a feeling when they think of you. That feeling can be good or bad and at the rate things can escalate over social media, you don’t want to pull a Pepsi.

If you’d like help telling your story, contact us on 0121 454 9707 or email gary.hebblethwaite@hroc.co.uk.

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