Advertising and Semiotics – Heineken


The Worlds Apart Heineken Advertisement by Edelman and Publicis, London, is refreshing in the way it uses social conscious and acts counter hegemonically to promote the sustainable values of tolerance, empathy, creating mutual goals and shared identities. Unlike the comparative Kendal Jenner Pepsi advertisement of the same time, which was unrealistic, and used questionable representations of people Worlds Apart was as a popular success and shows how socially conscious can work well in advertising.

Worlds Apart brings in a feminist and environmental activist with a member of the ‘new right’ opposed to the idea of climate change and explores ways to address the deep political divisions by presenting Heineken as the calm helpful, unifying mediator. The effectiveness of this message is achieved by drawing on societal myths about how the power of having a beer together can solve issues.  The participants work together on the task of putting together some particle furniture, have a Heineken and discuss ‘is there more that unites us than divides us’. The sharing of Heineken beers thus connotes this product as the moderating force that allows for cooperation.

Worlds Apart is counter-hegemonic in that it works against existing dominant culture stereotypes, and uses positive representations of real people. This effort is enhanced with in partnership with the Human Library which is an organisation “designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue” (Human Library 2018). On social media progressive messages like this are much more likely to get accepted and adopted.


One can see however how Worlds Apart could become representationally problematic for some marginalised groups. Sinclair reminds us that ‘it is people who create trust, affect and shared meanings’ and it is brand marketers who ‘pick up on these meanings and exploit them by associating these meanings with particular products and services’ (2015). In the end, Heineken as an advertiser is only feeding back to the audience, through a cultural feedback loop, what it wants to hear. Those from a non-drinking Islamic background, for example, could find the idea that drinking a beer as the pathway to peace, alienating and divisive. Bourdieu (cited in Hobbs 2017, p. 108) informs us how social groups ‘seek to construct meaning and maintain different identities, distinguishing themselves in part by acts of consumption’. One could see how many people of diverse backgrounds would like to partake in the symbolic act of drinking a Heineken to identify and socially emulate with the progressive values connotated with the product, but defiantly not all people.

Sinclair, J 2015, ‘Advertising, the media, and globalization’, Media Industries Journal, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 42-47.

Trevoort C. 2018, Human Library in partnership with Heineken® UK, Human Library, retrieved 21 May 2018, http://humanlibrary.org/news/human-library-partnership-heineken-uk/

‘Human Library in partnership with Heineken® UK’ (Human Library 2018)
(Human Library 2018)

Hobbs, M 2015, ‘Designing Desire: Advertising, Consumption and Identity’, in T Chalkley, M Hobbs, A Brown, T Cinque, B Warren & M Finn (eds), Communication, digital media and everyday life, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne pp. 93-111

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