The Heineken advert and the importance of diversity of opinion

You have to hand it to the advertising team at Heineken for managing to scrape together a five-minute commercial with social and political (and, I suppose, drink-related) themes at its centre and avoiding disaster, especially when you consider the fact that it was only a month ago that Kendall Jenner and the creative types at Pepsi managed to inflame thousands of people by tackling the very same subjects in their calamitous ad. (If you haven’t seen either advert, by the way, make haste to YouTube.)

The premise of the Heineken advert––called ‘Worlds Apart’––is simple, and it’s this: differences of opinion can be resolved, and those who hold those differences of opinion can coexist. It’s hardly a great insight by the thinkers and drinkers at Heineken, but the advert was well enough made to generate headlines like ‘Heineken has made the anti-Pepsi advert’. The ad runs like this: like the worst blind date ever conceived, several sets of two strangers meet in a warehouse and are told (without further explanation as far as I can tell) they need to work together to build a bar. This impromptu DIY session is followed by a strained conversation and questionnaire, and it’s only after they’ve bonded that it’s revealed that they hold fairly contrary opinions, and fairly staunchly, too (pro- and anti-transgenderism, pro- and anti-feminism––you get the picture). At the conclusion of the advert, each couple shares a beer and discusses these opinions in a civil, or even friendly way.

Now you’re entitled to feel that the creative types at the Dutch drink-maker came up with a cynical advert that implied depth but didn’t actually deliver it. And you wouldn’t be alone. Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff at Dazed has had ‘enough of brands pretending to be woke’ while DiDi Delgado, writing for HuffPost, took exception to the ‘equal footing’ on which she believed the advert placed ‘regressive’ and ‘progressive’ ideology. But the essential premise––that differences of opinion can coexist––is true and, we argue, essential for progress. Since the time of the Ancient Greeks, the dialectic, as it’s still known, has been an agent of progress. Somewhere between different opinions, we find truth.

That ‘truth’ doesn’t necessarily have to relate to high-minded cultural matters. It is a perhaps underappreciated fact in some sectors that creative conflict yields new solutions. In business, to give one example, it’s essential for innovation. And it follows that if you want to bring about that creative conflict, there has to be diversity of values, opinions and backgrounds. The irony is that when business relegate diversity to corporate social responsibility and seek to make every employee one and the same, they stifle the sort of debate that might deliver real value. That isn’t to say that two people of similar backgrounds and value systems can’t come up with a good idea––they do it all the time––but they’re unlikely to form a really great idea.

The science agrees. In 2014, Katherine W. Phillips discussed the implications of ‘decades of research’ into the subject in a lengthy article for Scientific American. ‘It seems obvious that a group of people with diverse individual expertise would be better than a homogeneous group at solving complex, non-routine problems,’ she wrote. ‘It is less obvious that social diversity should work in the same way. This is not only because people with different backgrounds bring new information. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.’

At JPC, we’re acutely aware that bringing together people of contrasting backgrounds and viewpoints leads to new takes on old ideas. We also know it might create something truly original. Our diversity workshops reflect this, and were devised specifically to avoid the shortcomings of the typical ‘team-building’ exercises. Instead, our workshops were designed to allow the individual to express her or his personality, and to feel confident and comfortable isolating themselves, if you like, from the herd.

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