It seems to me that advertisements have gotten better in the past few years. They’ve become more humorous, more creative, and more inspiring. But really, they’ve stayed the same; owning a car is American, household products are for women, beer is masculine, and we should buy their products. So while contemplating the societal confines the culture industry produces, a Heineken commercial somehow popped into my mind:
Heineken invites us to “open our world” by buying their product. This commercial is rife with contradictions that actually demonstrate how Heineken hopes to keep our world closed; both ideologically and as consumers.
Seemingly about beer, Heineken is in fact reinforcing conventional success as both attainable and exclusive. As a beer, Heineken is considered around the middle of the line in terms of quality; not as bad as Natural Light, but not a craft beer. If the commercial is to be believed, it’s both a pretentious and unpretentious beer: the “protagonist” of the ad denies a martini as too pretentious but also has “class,” that is, high class. However, he is also hip and charming. He is ordinary and extraordinary, someone that the worker could admire, though someone they could never hope to be. By enjoying himself in a relatable way, despite his apparent economic status, he does not cut off a lower class consumer base. He avoids seeming haughty, because “the connoisseur and the expert are despised for their pretentious claim to know better than others” (Horkheimer/Adorno 46). The protagonist has charisma; he’s better than average, but does not inspire envy, just admiration. Heineken doesn’t just sell beer; it is selling an idea of success, glamour, and desirability along with it. The consumers, by internalizing the notion that consuming is correlated to such a glamorous setting and such a charismatic personality, buy into the capitalist ideology which keeps them complacent. They are the “deceived masses…captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are,” a myth this commercial propagates (46). The commercial connotes the protagonist as the most successful, as he is the center of attention of an already conventionally successful group. As such, the myth of success is shown to persist even after success is achieved; consuming makes one better, but one can still be better than that. For the viewer/consumer of this commercial, this is aligned with Heineken; not only can you become more successful, but you can become even better than that if you buy their beer. In society, the consumer’s effort to buy in order to become happy and successful is shown to be futile; there is always a way to buy more and be better.
This commercial is also an example of the bastardization of ‘authentic’ culture by the culture industry. The world presented draws on a nostalgic world, “the Golden Age,” as the background song refers to it, that is highly reminiscent of The Great Gatsby. The pop music, presence of decidedly lower class American icons (the cowboy), and insertion of the kung fu action movie homage all represent the encroachment of popular culture onto societal interpretations of high culture. By virtue of its medium as an advertisement, the ad proves a perfect example that “[c]ommodification…devalues ‘authentic’ culture, making it too accessible by turning into yet another saleable commodity” (Blue 64). The world of high culture is turned on its head to sell us beer.
I wish I could address the presence of multiculturalism and the race of the protagonist within this blog post, but it seems outside of the scope of the prompt.