Customer Engagement
Delivering Creativity and Effective Story Telling

What Was the Missing Element in Heineken’s Brilliant Ad?

Clay Hausmann
May 22, 2017


Clay Hausmann, CMO, Aktana

Clay Hausmann, CMO, Aktana

Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” film is garnering millions of views and much-deserved praise. At a time when most brands still cannot figure out how to shed their self-centered selling instincts and create narrative-driven content, Heineken has created an interesting and thought-provoking film that resonates with every audience member, whether he or she is a beer drinker or not. It’s a little reminiscent of the brilliant Coke film that Dustin Lance Black wrote and directed two years ago. And as much as I celebrate Heineken’s effort and agree with the praise they’re receiving, I can’t help but lament the missing third act of the piece.

Using the traditional three-act structure found in films and many other forms of storytelling, we see how intelligently the “Worlds Apart” story structure was built.

Act 1

We meet the characters: Three pairs of individuals with diametrically opposing views on feminism, climate change, and human sexuality. Their perspectives are presented as iron-clad, but not over the top. This is a critical aspect to get right and it sets up much of the success of the piece. We need to identify with these characters and recognize them as ourselves or others we know well. The agency easily could have gone to the extreme here in an effort to get shocking, click-bait clips – which in turn would have eroded the connection with the audience and harmed the overall narrative. Instead, they went for alarming, but genuine, and it works beautifully.

We are introduced to the inciting incident which is a manufactured one in the form of a social experiment, but that’s perfectly ok. We now have an idea of where this is headed and we’re hooked. (By the way, no sign of a Heineken bottle yet. Well done.)

Act 2

We watch as the three pairs talk and work together to build something. They’re asked to describe themselves with five adjectives and they do in very self-aware and open fashion.

“Solemn,” says one man. “I have my ups and downs.”

We all do. The fact that he would share this, and the pained look on his face when he does, makes us empathize with him immediately despite what we may think about his earlier comments on sexuality. Throughout the steps of the social experiment, the audience is in the know while the characters are not. This use of dramatic irony draws us into the narrative even closer. We’re intrigued to find out when and how the characters are going to be told what is happening and what the result of that reveal will be. We see bonds being built between the characters – true, personal bonds – all the while knowing that they have very different belief systems.

Our anticipation is finally satiated when they’re asked to stand and watch a brief video. It only takes a moment to realize that the characters are about to be confronted by their own views in front of a near-stranger.

This video sets up the ultimate confrontation of the piece and leads us into Act 3 where we will get our resolution…

Act 3

…and we do! Mostly. The characters realize that they’re in the presence of someone who thinks the exact opposite about an important, personal issue. And then they can choose whether to talk it out over a beer. So in the absolute, we get an answer to the question, “will they talk or will they walk?”

So, why do I state that this film lacks a third act? Because it skims the surface – and that’s completely inconsistent with the rest of the film. The preceding three and a half minutes have been rich with personal beliefs, insecurities, embarrassments and possibly even secrets! The film has plumbed great depths in a short period of time and made us think. But the last act stays away from those depths and simply tells us that communicating is good. A very valid point and an underused skill in today’s world, but I wanted to know so much more. I was completely hooked into the story and these characters!

What shaped their beliefs and the decisions they made? What do they think of the other person now having heard such different words come out in the video? Will they begin to soften their stance when confronted by a sensible opposing perspective?

If you still have an audience member’s attention this deep into your film, you have a commitment to stay true to what got you that trust. Resist the tidy ending and the sell, and finish your story. Answers to these questions would have stayed true to the film’s tone and could have been delivered in less than a minute – another minute I would have gladly invested in watching this wonderful film.

Or perhaps there is a director’s cut to come?

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