As We Scream and Yell to Ensure Our Beliefs are Heard, Heineken Reminds Us of the Power of Listening

In recent years, every element of identity – gender, race, sexual preference, class – has become a battleground upon which combatants shout their beliefs as loud as they can in the hope that it will bring their side victory.

While making your voice heard certainly helps create change, sometimes having the courage to close your mouth and listen is the quickest way to peace, common ground, and acceptance.

That’s what Heineken reminded us last month, with the release of their Worlds Apart campaign.


“We’ve got used to only hearing views that are the same as our own in our cosy echo-chambers, and that results in people becoming more polarised and divided,” explains Cindy Tervoort, Heineken UK’s Marketing Director.

“Heineken wanted to challenge this.”

The company set out on a nine month journey to create a campaign that asked the question, “are we really as open and aware as we think we are?”

To find an answer, Heineken turned to Dr. Chris Brauer, a leading expert in human behaviour at Goldsmiths University.

“He confirmed the absolute core of common ground is truly hearing the interests and concerns of another person, openly and without judgment.”

Ensuring the participants would do just that was therefore crucial to the integrity and success of the campaign. For two months, the team interviewed potential subjects. The process was finely crafted; it was important to get a sense of who the applicants were, and how they would appear on screen, without tipping them off to the experiment’s overall goal.

This secrecy continued well into the project. It was only when they stepped into the warehouse that the subjects even realised they’d be working in pairs.

For the next hour, each of the nine pairs that were selected (Tervoort says some of those who didn’t appear in this film will be shown in later ones) went about their tasks with nothing more than a few simple notes on a piece of paper, and occasional guidance from the director, who spoke via loudspeaker.

The subjects were alone, slightly confused, and clearly nervous as they begin.

Behind the monitors in a nearby room, the Heineken team are on edge. With no script, no rehearsal, and some emotionally heavy reveals to come, the success of the campaign now rested on the better nature of the participants.

Undoubtedly, they delivered. Worlds Apart is brilliant in its honesty and subtlety.

The obvious comparison to Pepsi’s demeaning, tone deaf Live for Now Moments Anthemwhich released a fortnight earlier than Open Your World, is easy, but warranted. Where Pepsi portrayed itself as some great carbonated saviour, capable of defusing, if not entirely vanquishing all the world’s woes, Heineken lets the conversation, not the product, represent the message.

“We are not saying we can change the world. What we can do is drive those conversations and inspire people to meet and connect. So it’s actually about being humble about the role you can play. It has never been easier to be closed off and intolerant, we feel it is important to make a case for openness.  The more people who share this point of view the better as a collection of voices will make this change happen much quicker than anyone in isolation.”

“We believe that sharing a connection with someone is chance to have new experiences that open your world. Those moments can happen anywhere, anytime, including over a beer. We believe in an open, inclusive society based on connections and common ground. Helping create that society is what Open Your World is all about.”

Upon release, the campaign was met with positive responses, and quickly spread across social media channels. Currently, the film has 12.3 million views. Beneath all that, however, lurked a skeptic underbelly.

It was to be expected; in the film, at least two of the more conservative subjects are quick to accept the views of their counterparts. This highlights the power of listening, of empathy – powers rarely activated in the war for tolerance. No surprise then that viewers who share in these views regarding feminism and transgenderism were quick to declare the experiment a fake; the subjects, actors.

Tervoort had the perfect response:

“We were very deliberate in casting real people with their own views in our film. If it is overly simplistic to believe this, then maybe that is what we need more of – simple things everyone can do to make a change.”

So too was the reaction to claims that Heineken were trying to take advantage of the so-called social activism ‘trend’:

“This campaign doesn’t mark a change in our brand because the spirit of openness has made us who we are for more than 150 years. We strongly believe in an open, inclusive world based on empathy, tolerance and respect. As millions of consumers drink Heineken and see our brand across the world, we wanted to use our reach to inspire people to connect and find common ground, within our own company and beyond.”

‘Open Your World’ has been the brand’s tag line since 2011, and the Worlds Apart film will not mark an end to Heineken’s call for honest and pure connection.

The brand is partnering with The Human Library, a not-for-profit enterprise that uses conversation to challenge stereotypes and prejudice.

“In the next stage of the campaign we are encouraging our colleagues to spend time with someone they have never spoken to before. We will create moments when we connect, share what makes us tick and have fun together. In other words, we are going to take inspiration from the Human Library and get to know a new ‘book’ of our own.”

One campaign won’t change the world, but even if it inspires one conversation, it has made a difference. There’s a lot both viewers of Worlds Apart, and businesses everywhere, can learn from that simple truth.

The war of words is hopeless. The time to shut up and listen is now.

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