Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hold the Heineken

Last August, I got really pissed after seeing a Heineken commercial and fired off this e-mail to their directors of sales and marketing.

I am very disappointed with Heineken. Recently, I saw a Heineken commercial that, whether intentionally or not, casts Asian Americans and African Americans in an unfavorable light.

The commercial features two Asian-American "gangster wannabes" at a convenience store preparing to purchase large bottles of malt liquor. The obvious premise was that: (1) Asian Americans are clueless when it comes to gangster style, hence their "wannabe" status; (2) gangster wannabes copy what real gangsters do; (3) real gangsters are often African Americans; (4) African Americans, particularly those who are gangsters, enjoy malt liquor; therefore, (5) Asian-American gangster wannabes want to drink malt liquor.

As the commercial continues, a "hip," "new-school" African American enters the convenience store and grabs a six-pack of Heineken. Upon observing that shrewd purchasing decision, the wannabes set aside their bottles of malt liquor and grab a six-pack of Heineken as well.

I am an Asian American, and I am not fond of Asian-American gangster wannabes. However, I am even less fond of corporations that trade on ethnic stereotypes in crass attempts to promote their products. And if I see that commercial again, I may soon cease to be fond of drinking Heineken. One would hope that a company that encourages responsible drinking would engage in responsible advertising.

This is the "we care" and "we didn't mean no disrespect" response I got several days later.

Dear Mr. Fang,

Thank you for contacting us to express your concerns about our recent Heineken brand television ad. We hope you understand that this commercial was meant in no way to be offensive. The commercial was intended to demonstrate Heineken's long-standing support of the urban culture and music and to connote it's global transcendence. Moreover, we hoped to honor the favorable influence urban culture has had on so many and more importantly, to celebrate the bridging of gaps between seemingly divergent cultures. Heineken takes its commitment to respecting the diversity of our consumers very seriously. We wanted you to be aware that the spot is no longer airing and we have decided to discontinue running the ad effective August 21. We truly appreciate your contacting us with your concerns and we hope that you will continue to support and enjoy Heineken in the future.

Thank you for your interest in Heineken USA.

Mercedes T. Bangari
Corporate Affairs
Heineken USA

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