Slice of lime in your beer? That's all right, mate

Toxic masculinity rapped by ad watchdog

21 January 2021 - 09:54 By TimesLIVE
subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now
The ad watchdog found no humour in a TV commercial targeted at “real men”.
The ad watchdog found no humour in a TV commercial targeted at “real men”.

A depiction of a man who in effect buckles to the pressure of his peers to fit in is disturbing, says the Advertising Regulatory Board — ordering a beer giant to immediately withdraw it.

A complaint was lodged by Aadila Agjee against Heineken SA on its marketing of Windhoek Lager.

The television commercial features two men having a video call, with one recalling how the other once asked for a slice of lime with the alcoholic beverage when they were in a bar. Actor Gerard Butler is seated at the bar. He turns around and says: “Hey, that’s a Windhoek. That’s 100% pure beer ... You don’t need any ... lime.” The second man takes a sip of the beer and clearly enjoys it. Butler says: “Keep it real, Joe.”

The commercial goes back to the video call between the two friends, showing the second man enjoying a Windhoek Lager, with the voice-over “Keep it real with 100% pure beer.”

Agjee said the commercial is offensive: “It belittles a man for requesting a lime slice with his beer.”

“While this may seem funny to many, an equal or larger number of people enjoy citrus with their beer or cider — popularly linked with women having a lime or lemon slice with their cider.

“I understand the message that Windhoek beer is complete on its own, however shaming or belittling people for their personal preferences is not OK. Rather try attract all customers instead of being stupidly restrictive and offending a whole range of potential customers ...”

Heineken SA said the ad markets Windhoek Lager as a pure beer and does not need any flavouring. The man who requests the lime was doing so out of habit, and when he tasted the Windhoek Lager without the lime, his response was one of appreciation. He does not react with offence or shame, it told the ad watchdog.

The company added the staged call-out by Butler on the usage of lime was not, and is not, meant to discriminate against women.

The advertising directorate conducted some “informal background research” to reach its decision.

It found Windhoek Lager is brewed according to Reinheitsgebot, a German purity law dating back to 1516. What this essentially means is that Windhoek Lager is produced using only three ingredients, namely malted barley, hops and water. This is why it is referred to as “100% pure beer”. 

Theories on the use of lime or lemon slices in beer and cider include that a slice of lime would clean a dirty bottle, another is that a slice of lime or lemon kills germs. “Further theories include that the citrus shoos away flies, improves the taste of bad quality beer, and even that people put in a slice of citrus simply to follow a trend. In the directorate’s informal online research, no links were made to women doing this more often than men.”

That being said, the directorate said it understands Agjee's discomfort.

“While it is never spelt out, there is an undertone of 'real men drink real beer' in this commercial [and] an unspoken dialogue ... men don’t have lemon or lime slices in their beer. This unspoken dialogue is, in turn, further emphasised by the use of Gerard Butler, an actor associated with macho movie roles ...”

The character who gets teased by the Butler character is “a gentle looking, red-headed man — two characteristics that might typically make him a target for teasing in a toxic environment, said the directorate.

The “fit in” culture communicated by this commercial is disturbing, it found.

“Not only is the character publicly shamed and belittled about his request for a lemon or lime in his beer, he is still being teased about it after the fact.”

Said the ARB: “Gender stereotyping or negative gender portrayal must not be permitted in advertising, unless [it] is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.”

“It is the entrenchment of the role of men as having to behave in a certain way with which the directorate takes issue.

“It is also the entrenchment of male behaviour that is bullying, and what has come to be labelled as 'toxic masculinity'.”

Heineken was instructed to withdraw or amend the commercial.


subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now