• Gina Baleria

Telling the Civity Story: Heineken & Intentionality

Updated: May 22, 2019

Many people have shared with us at Civity the Heineken ad showing people who were brought together to engage across difference over a beer. This ad and others like it tap into the growing awareness of just how polarized we are, as well as encourage us to find commonality, even in the face of our most stark differences.

Civity supports efforts to bridge divides and help people come together, and we applaud Heineken and other companies and organizations for exploring this trope and presenting these ideas to the wider world. At the same time, we are acutely aware of the importance of proceeding with care and sensitivity so that connections across divides are genuine and person-to-person. One major component of a Civity interaction is intentionality – ensuring that people make the choice to knowingly and engage willingly in conversations across difference.

We invited a few members of the Civity community to share their perspectives on the Heineken ad.

Reba Hsu, a friend of Civity who works in media production, said that overall she appreciated the ad. “I think it’s a bold concept, and it’s encouraging to see this coming from the advertising world.” But she cautioned against the “element of corporate social engineering which feels somewhat uncomfortable.”

Lara Ortiz-Luis, who also hails from world of media, felt ambivalent about the commercial, particularly when it comes to potential exploitation of people from marginalized groups.

“At first glance, I thought, ‘this is Civity! Yay - a mainstream brand promoting empathy and understanding.’ But then I thought, is this message unintentionally suggesting that people representing or part of marginalized groups have the responsibility to listen to and be patient with people who are questioning their very right to exist? Consent on both sides to have the conversation was missing - and that is a key part of Civity.”

“I always feel conflicted about the use of social issues to enhance brand for a company that so clearly does not embody that mission in what it does day to day,” Ortiz-Luis said. “On one hand, you could say that it's great for a brand/company with such wide reach to use its influence for something good. On the other hand, is that okay if they aren't doing it right and might be inflicting more damage?”

Hsu said Civity might be able to put the Heineken approach into practice in a way that avoids the pitfalls brought up in the commercial and focuses on local issues.

“A piece set in a local context might bring together people who match stereotypes familiar to the Bay Area – e.g. a well-to-do programmer and someone employed in the gig economy (e.g. Uber, Instacart, etc.),” said Hsu. “Careful thought would also need to go into which polarizing issues were touched on and how they were handled.”

Ortiz-Luis agrees that over-simplification of the issues, as happened in the Heineken ad, can be problematic, and points out that Civity practices ensure authenticity. “These conversations are infinitely nuanced, and to distill three extremely controversial multi-faceted issues into a commercial seems insane to me,” she said. “On the other side, I think that one should always try to put messages out there if intentions are good, collaborate with a community expert, and then be humble and apologetic if you get things wrong. If we don't ever try, then change will never happen.”

Civity co-founder Malka Kopell was glad to see Civity concepts in the mainstream. “I was surprised and even touched by this ad,” Kopell said. “It does communicate Civity ideas and it was pretty efficient at doing so. Also, I think it's interesting that Heineken thinks that these ideas can help them sell beer. That's encouraging!”

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