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“Sometimes, lighter is better” the advertising slogan of a prestigious brewing company, Heineken, was criticized as a racist advertisement in 2018. Heineken, a Dutch brewing company that has been in the industry for more than 140 years, is not only well-known because of their alcoholic beverages but also the impression they leave with their attractive commercials. However, the “Sometimes, lighter is better” commercial video showed a white bartender passing a bottle of Heineken Light to a black woman, a black guitar player, another black woman, and lastly to a white girl. The caption “lighter is better” is then displayed at the end. The intended meaning of “lighter” in this video is describing a more dilute and lesser calorie drink, but “lighter” is potentially a sensitive and misleading word that could be linked to the complexion of one’s skin tone and to the black or white issue due to the way they conveyed the message of the advertisement. Furthermore, this advertisement can easily be misunderstood that white is better than black.
Firstly, this advert does not obey responsibility, one of the AMA code of ethics, as the company failed to act rationally and responsibly to the society while promoting products. Children easily learned from the television and commercial (Seiter,1999). “Lighter is better” may misguide young children to link “lighter” to complexion “lighter”. Wrong moral values will be instilled since the kids are too young to have enough knowledge about alcoholic drinks.
Apart from responsibility, Heineken has also broken the principles of AMA code by showing disrespectful actions and unfair treatments to different races. The word “lighter” seems like the company only focuses on marketing to the whites while neglecting the blacks. Besides limiting their target groups, the employees who are black will also feel offended consequently effecting the productivity. Hence, failure to show respect can be an obstacle for company’s development. Despite all that, Heineken still openly accepted the criticism. Snider (2018) reports that Heineken had removed the advert from the media, apologized for their mistake and explained that they supposed to explain clearly about the word “lighter”. They accepted judgement from consumers and acted accordingly.
Nevertheless, the fact that Heineken possesses a professional marketing department inevitably makes viewers ask “How did such a famous company make such a big mistake?”. It is hard to not think that they might use racism topic to grab others’ attentions. It is because the controversial topics always win more media exposure (Bearne,2015). In addition, using sensitive words to promote products is unethical because it may have negative impact on global peace. Gutiérrez, Santiago, and Soska (as cited in McLuhan,1960) believe that the concept of “global village” has been spread out rapidly by communication (p. 1). However, if we do not respect others’ cultures and languages, the essence of globalization will be lost. Even though this 30-second commercial seems to have little negative effect on the community, but the power of language may cause a huge global issue.
Lastly, Heineken should avoid using sensitive words which relate to complexion. To promote light Heineken alcoholic drink, sunlight might be used to represent “light”. For example, a group of people enjoy drinking Heineken light after playing volleyball at the beach under sunlight. This can lead consumers to think that “light” is healthier and better. Heineken can also promote their product by shooting how the product is made and getting reviews from their employees of different racial backgrounds after drinking Heineken light because these can make their company appear more ethical and their drinks more reliable.
In conclusion, Heineken faced financial loss as they retrieved all the advertisements after the outcries over racism. Reputation of the company has suffered significantly. The strong bonding between customers and sellers maybe be damaged as the company’s image will be affected since the company failed to comply to the AMA code of ethics. Therefore, companies should always keep their advertising ethics in check not only to uphold brand reputation but also to protect the customer rights.
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