That Cooper’s ‘Keeping it Light’ Ad… what it got wrong and what is so very right.

I’ve been mean­ing to write about this since March, when the orig­i­nal Coopers ‘Keeping it Light’ ad aired, but haven’t got around to it until now. However, I think that the take home points from that ad are just as rel­e­vant now—and per­haps even more rel­e­vant with the postal sur­vey about to close.

For those who may have missed the furore—or more real­is­ti­cal­ly are read­ing this from over­seas, as it was pret­ty hard to miss here in Australia—it goes some­thing like this. Coopers part­ners with the Bible Society Australia to pro­duce a line of com­mem­o­ra­tive­ly tagged cans under the “Keeping it Light” slo­gan, and sub­se­quent­ly filmed an ad fea­tur­ing two Liberal par­ty MPs dis­cussing Same Sex Marriage. Perhaps unsur­pris­ing­ly this did­n’t go down well with the gen­er­al pub­lic, and after just a few days the entire cam­paign was pulled (cam­paign archive here). So, then, what are the take home points from this furore? Well, here are some things that the ad got very wrong, and one thing it actu­al­ly got right.

Getting it Wrong

Perhaps the biggest thing that the ad got wrong was the over­all tone of the dis­course. By plac­ing it with­in the con­text of a ‘light dis­cus­sion’ the cre­ative team behind the ad severe­ly under­cut the dis­course that hap­pened with­in the ‘debate’—the tone and con­tent of which frankly was pret­ty mild. Primarily, this is because the top­ic of same sex mar­riage in Australia is considered—as in many oth­er countries—a heavy top­ic, and one that evi­dent­ly is seri­ous enough to spend $122M on (don’t get me start­ed on that). But to pitch it as a ‘light dis­cus­sion’ was sore­ly misguided.

Secondly though was the choice of con­ver­sa­tion part­ners, in Liberal MPs Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie. While the MPs do help­ful­ly hold dif­fer­ent posi­tions, and Tim Wilson self-declares as same-sex attract­ed, they are notably both from the same par­ty. That same par­ty that has been noto­ri­ous­ly resis­tant to allow­ing any dis­course on the issue entire­ly. By pitch­ing the debate as ‘light’ and between two mem­bers entrenched in a par­ty that has tra­di­tion­al­ly dis­al­lowed this dis­cus­sion both of the con­ver­sa­tion part­ners are imme­di­ate­ly cat­e­gorised as part of a group that is neg­a­tive­ly asso­ci­at­ed with same-sex marriage—despite Wilson’s own stat­ed views.

These two fac­tors prob­a­bly explain much of why the ad received so much neg­a­tive atten­tion and sub­se­quent back­lash. Leaving off the whole con­cept of light beer in the first place, which is a seri­ous mispitch anyway.

What it got Right

However, not all is lost. Despite the mas­sive fail­ings of the ad, it did get one thing right: face-to-face dis­cus­sions. Much of mod­ern social dis­course is con­duct­ed over rel­a­tive­ly imper­son­al medi­ums such as social media. This goes for the SSM postal sur­vey as much as it does for polit­i­cal debate (see Trump), and debates over race and gen­der. While these medi­ums give some sem­blance of inter­per­son­al inter­ac­tion, they lack much of the emo­tion­al engage­ment that inter­per­son­al con­tact gen­er­ates, as we have dis­cussed here.

What the Coopers ad gets right is that face-to-face one-on-one inter­ac­tion defus­es much of the group iden­ti­ty that is present on social media, and pro­motes inter­per­son­al inter­ac­tion instead. It, as social-iden­ti­ty the­o­rists put it, reduces the salience of inter-group inter­ac­tion, and increas­es the salience of inter-per­son­al inter­ac­tion. 2 Why is this impor­tant? Well much of the lit­er­a­ture on change of atti­tude in con­flict­ing social groups empha­sis­es that most of the change hap­pens at an indi­vid­ual lev­el, rather than at a social group lev­el. Indeed, inter­ac­tion at a group lev­el ‘increas­es the per­ceived homo­gene­ity of out­groups and con­sen­sus among the ingroup.’ Effectively entrench­ing views with­in those social groups.

Perhaps then the take home from the Coopers ad is that if you real­ly want to change some­ones mind on a con­tentious social-group issue, sit down with them face-to-face as indi­vid­u­als. Easy? No. But worth­while. Just don’t use light beer. The next post in this series will focus on a prac­ti­cal exam­ple of this.

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  1. Haslam, S. Alexander. Psychology in Organizations. SAGE, 2004.,23
  2. Haslam, S. Alexander. Psychology in Organizations. SAGE, 2004.,23