Lighter Isn’t Better
Lighter Actually Isn’t Better
How Heineken Majorly Missed The Mark
The advertisement I chose was Heineken’s ‘Lighter Is Better’ campaign. The commercial starts with a bartender who notices a light skinned woman looking unsatisfied at her wine glass. The bartender then takes out a Heineken bottle and slides it down the bar in her direction. Before arriving to the woman, the bottle slides past three people which are the focus of each shot, all of which are black. Once the bottle meets the woman, “Sometimes, Lighter is Better” appears on the screen. The company pulled the commercial after receiving criticism and backlash. In response to accusations that the company’s marketing supports a preference for lighter complexions, they released a statement, saying “We missed the mark, are taking the feedback to heart and will use this to influence future campaigns”.
The reason why this advertisement is problematic is because it defines structural racism, intersectionality, and embodies the social construction of race. Structural racism is the set of practices within a society that that puts one social or ethnic group in a better position to succeed, while disadvantaging the others in a consistent matter. The reason this is portrayed in the advertisement is because it is relaying a message that our society has been actively and consciously trying to fix and change. While it may have been unintentional, sliding a bottle past three black people, and then ending up with a white woman accompanied by the words “Lighter is Better”, is no coincidence. And even if it was, the ignorance and blindness to the situation that was being portrayed was where Heineken went wrong. Having a proper process in place where the commercial was surveyed for “accidental” offensiveness by multiple people who are aware of what to look for, most likely would’ve halted this advertisement before being released.
The next issue is intersectionality. This is an ideology of which states that those who fall under oppressed groups also fall under multiple forms of minority conformity. This essentially means that a minority group is an easy target since they are likely classified under another minority characteristic as well. An example of this would be a black woman, or a black gay man. Not only are they a minority because of their race, but also because of their sexual orientation or gender. Two of the black people shown were women, and the other was a man, as a musician working at the bar. None of these people were in a position of power, and by the portrayal of them in the commercial, they were meant to look disadvantaged by not only not receiving the Heineken bottle, but also watching it slide past them.
Lastly, this advertisement embodies the social construction of race. As stated in an article in the New York Times, “Race is not biological. It is a social construct. There is no gene or cluster of genes common to all blacks or all whites”. Because it is a social construct, society often deems blackness as being less. The advertisement fully embodies this since it is quite literally saying that lighter (whiter) is better. This statement, accompanied by the poor actor placement, is what made this advertisement majorly miss the mark.
The impact this advertisement can have can very well be subconscious on individuals who may not be aware of the concepts described above that are problematic. Seeing the phrase “Lighter is better” may impact a person’s internal beliefs without even realizing it. Furthermore, this kind of advertisement can impact Heineken in a way far larger than it most likely did. They could have received so much backlash that they’d deeply decline in sales or even go bankrupt. Heineken was fortunate enough to catch their mistake quickly and make a public statement apologizing for the advertisement, but the impact this made could have been much worse.
If I could fix this advertisement and do it over, it would just not be made. To deconstruct what went wrong and where, essentially explains just how racist the advertisement was. For example, it would have made more sense to use a darker-colored brand beer, whether or not is was named. But even if the black people that the glass slid by were removed, the entire advertisement would basically be white-washed. No matter which way you turn it, “Lighter is Better” is a troubling phrase. While it makes sense in terms of their brand image, since Heineken is lighter-colored because it is a low calorie beer, I feel as though this phrase can’t be accompanied by people. This analysis can go on to inform my decision-making and be developed into a bigger idea in the fact that companies need to actively make an effort to insert the proper precautions in the process of creating advertisements. Mistakes will happen, but this one seemed to be careless and could have been avoided. This analysis could also be connected with the Black Lives Matter movement, because on a much smaller scale, this is what it’s all about. Subtle messages like the one portrayed in this advertisement, can make up a huge part of why there is a social construction of race. An example of a way to connect this to another brand as a larger picture, would be Airbnb. Airbnb has taken action against racist movements and riots and has released advertisements of their own promoting diversity and their company’s mission. If there was theoretically an event that Airbnb sponsored, they would most likely take action to ensure that Heineken would not be the drink of choice at said event.
Chokshi, Niraj. “Heineken Pulls ‘Lighter Is Better’ Ad After Outcry Over Racism.” The New
York Times, The New York Times, 28 Mar. 2018,
“How Fluid Is Race?” The New York Times, The New York Times,